The coronavirus (COVID-19), which has already affected the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in a number of unprecedented ways, is now expected to have an effect on the university’s ongoing construction projects, potentially including cancellations.
Due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UNH, President James W. Dean Jr. said on Tuesday’s episode of the podcast “UNH Podcats” that he and other UNH leaders have “decided to cancel or postpone a large swath of construction projects…that were being done.”
The exact implications of this decision are not yet clear. Brenda Whitmore, the director of facilities management, which oversees all construction across campus, characterized Dean’s statement as “project suspension or delays,” saying that this is “just some of the many ways” that Dean and other senior UNH officials are trying to “offset the financial impact temporarily.”
According to Whitmore, the pandemic is already “affecting all work across campus including construction.” In the short term, this means that construction projects are being slowed by personnel following necessary social distancing protocols, including a 6-foot distance requirement.
Whitmore said that “by nature this adds time to all projects.” Additionally, she said that cleanliness protocols are also being met on construction sites on campus, which requires “additional time and money to implement disinfection requirements.”
“The safety of all is the primary concern for every project occurring on the campus,” Whitmore said.
The future of those projects, including the Spaulding Hall renovation and expansion, is in question. Dean said that, in light of the large refunds the university sent out last week, the institution is facing a “hole in our budget that we need to respond to.” These refunds, according to Dean, totaled approximately $27 million.
As of right now, according to Whitmore, “due to supply chain and labor concerns,” UNH has decided to “pause and assess the availability of materials and equipment and ensure that the labor force is capable of delivering work in the field in a safe and efficient manner.”
Before this happens, though, some construction work is continuing, including the process of “steel topping” on the Spaulding Hall expansion, which is a ceremony of placing the last beam atop a structure. It means the expansion’s structure is now complete.
The construction on Spaulding Hall, which has not seen significant renovation since its construction in 1960, has been widely anticipated by students and faculty alike. Its original timeline was set to have the expansion to the building completed and ready for move in by the summer of 2021—a goal that currently appears unlikely to be reached.
However, Whitmore said, “We are prepared to resume a normal schedule at the direction and guidance of senior leadership.”
“We are hopeful that the climate will stabilize and this will generate some sense of certainty,” Whitmore said. “In the meantime, UNH is committed to delivering necessary projects, for life safety, utility infrastructure, and other essential work in a safe and appropriate manner.”