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Orange County

Why UNC-CH will pay more for campus athletics upgrade

A $55 million plan to replace UNC’s soccer/lacrosse stadium and build the football team a bigger practice complex has seen its price tag rise more than 22 percent, because of design changes and a hotter-than-it-has-been construction market.

The bill for Fetzer Field’s successor and the football team’s new indoor/outdoor practice fields is now expected to approach $67.4 million.

The change got an OK this week from the UNC system Board of Governors. Meanwhile, on campus, workers are already well along in demolishing Fetzer, the track that once surrounded the soccer field proper and the nearby field hockey stadium.

UNC-CH’s vice chancellor for business and finance, Matt Fajack, chalks up about “$2 million to $3 million” of the change to market forces.

Labor and materials costs slumped during the recession that accompanied 2008’s Wall Street crash, but a trade index published by the New York-based Turner Construction Co. indicates they started climbing again in earnest in 2013.

The Turner index has risen about 4.9 percent in the past year and about 9.9 percent combined over the last two. The Board of Governors first approved the project, and the original $55 million budget authorization, in the fall of 2015.

Things are busy enough nowadays in the state’s construction sector that “we’re having trouble getting people to bid on some of the renovation work we’re doing,” Fajack said, citing a project in the nearby Kenan Labs tower where contractors’ offers came in significantly higher than expected.

But he and other officials acknowledged that since getting the initial green light, UNC-CH has done things on its own to add to the project’s ultimate cost.

The list begins with the decision to build an all-new practice facility for the football team, instead of simply adding on to or modifying the existing Eddie Smith Field House. The new one will have roll-up doors to shield or expose the main practice field, depending on the weather. It will also have two outdoor fields, one covered with artificial turf and the other with real grass, and both lighted so they can do double duty for campus intramurals.

In-house planners also decided to treat the project as a chance to solve a nagging pedestrian-circulation issue, namely that there hasn’t been a good way to walk between the Stadium Drive area – home to dorms, one of UNC-CH’s big parking decks and Kenan Stadium – and the eastern edge of campus, where one finds the School of Government and the School of Law.

The trip now involves a circuitous walk along either South Road or Ridge Road. While there was a potential direct route just south of Fetzer, it was closed to most people “unless you were in Athletics” because some parts of the route were fenced off, said Anna Wu, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning.

“We’ve never been able to walk through that part of campus,” Wu said.

Now, the plan is to install an east-west concourse between the new soccer/lacrosse stadium and the football team’s practice facility, with stairs and elevators at east end to help overcome the topography.

While the Rams Club – the booster club for UNC-CH athletics – is ultimately covering most of the bill for the combined projects, the campus itself eventually chip in $1.3 million for the east-west concourse and another that will run north-south to connect the soccer stadium and football complex to Hooker Fields, Wu said.

That money will come out of an “open space trust fund” that Wu’s office uses to pay for pedestrian-related projects like an ongoing upgrade of Porthole Alley.

The remaining factor in the price rise for the two projects is the need to move some of the underground utilities that cross the site, Wu said.

Launching the construction also meant relocating the field hockey stadium and the track team. That’s driving two more projects that each are expected to cost about $15 million. Combining facilities-office and Rams Club estimates, the bill for all the work is likely to approach $98 million.

The Rams Club secured $36.9 million in contributions and grants in fiscal 2014-15, according to its most recently available federal tax filing.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg

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