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May 06, 2005





Last month UNLV requested 34 million dollars from the legislature for a new Urban Affairs facility. It also dedicated a new history and political science building that cost more than 18 million dollars and it broke ground on 90-million dollars worth of student facilities. Later this year it'll break ground on a science building for 85 million dollars. In all by the end of 2007 the university will have spent a half a billion dollars on new buildings in less than a decade. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on how the university plans to do it.


PLASKON: The UNLV campus is a loud, busy place without enough office space. So little office space in fact that some professors joke they have been reduced to working in a trailer park called the central desert complex. They are fancy modular buildings where outside noise is inside too. Associate Professor of History Raquel Maria Casas is happy to have moved out of the trailer park and into a newly dedicated building.

CASAS: That was the thing, one of the first things was that professors said, windows for everybody.

PLASKON: Not only do the offices in the new building have windows, the classrooms have wireless Internet access, computers and flat screen TVs. They are outfitted with DVDs, VCRs and scanners. Gregory Brown, associate history professor teaches in these rooms.

BROWN: This is really state of the art for teaching. It breaks up really what has been 1-thousand years of teaching by just standing in front of students and expecting them to write down everything you said.

PLASKON: He teaches in multi-media, showing films, demonstrating useful Internet sites, and compares on-line technology with traditional hard copy archives to show how much more valuable real hard copies are to the historic record. Professors are learning how to incorporate this equipment into teaching says Kendall Hartley, assistant professor of education.

HARTLEY: Certainly there is a professional development need, less and less every year.

PLASKON: The renovated history and political science building is one of 21 projects the University has completed in the past 7 years. The price tag: 244 million dollars. It's just the beginning for the 400-acre campus. Tom Haggy oversees UNLV facilities.

HAGGY: And the logical question to ask is how many buildings and students can you pack in here before you are maxed out?

PLASKON: Last year, the university figured it out. Its master plan concluded the university will grow by 10-thousand students in 5 years. To serve them it needs to nearly double in size to 3.4 million more square feet of facilities. Historically the University hasn't received enough money from the legislature to do it.

HAGGY: So in three biennia, we will get nominally 150 million, we guess what we need is 1.7 billion.

PLASKON: Haggy says the lack of funds has the University keeping its options open.

HAGGY: Maybe we could put up a multi-story building and on the ground floor there will be a borders bookstore. Or some kind of a retail food establishment in return for them getting that plumb location and we would get something at far less cost than if we were to pay for it ourselves. So we are looking into that.

PLASKON: It's enlisted the assistance of KH Consulting out of California. The firm helped the University of California complete public private partnerships. One of the duties of KH is to provide the university with a public-private request for proposals. The traditional method for developing projects in these requests is called 'design, bid, build.' A public agency will design what it wants, then put out a request for proposals and select the builder that offers the cheapest price.

HAGGY: That process has in it many opportunities for controversy and disputes and claims and the Regional Justice Center is an example of how horribly bad it can get when you do design bid build.

PLASKON: Under that model, agencies are finding out that the cheap winning construction firm sometimes employs more lawyers than construction workers Haggy says and agencies get tied up in litigation. Instead the university plans to select a builder first, not based on the cheapest price, but based on the most qualified.

HAGGY: As the process unfolds, then the contractor gives you a guaranteed maximum price. And if it is higher than your maximum price then everybody is working together to scale back.

PLASKON: Haggy hopes to have requests for proposals out this year on the first of more than a quarter billion dollars worth of new facilities it plans. While it sounds like a lot, new constructions is where money is going at universities across the United States according to Lander Medland, Vice President of the Association of Higher Education Facilities.

MEDLAND: We are asking ourselves some of these questions. Do we build for 75-100 years facilities?

PLASKON: Or do they build temporary facilities she asks. The problem she says is that the needs in education change very quickly.

MEDLAND: Who would have known years ago that we want bioengineering facilities and so if the need has changed then the facility that you build has to change and it is a tough set of decisions.

PLASKON: An example would be that UNLV didn't predict that students would adopt Laptop computers when classrooms were designed. When they became popular the university started to provide outlets to each seat to run them. Except now laptop batteries are running long enough for each session and students don't need individual electrical outlets anymore.

HARTLEY: We need to deal with this pretty quickly, is our dependence on computer labs, they are kind of cumbersome.

PLASKON: Assistant Professor of education Kendall Hartley says in the age of lap-tops, student computer labs are outdated. He took a trip this month with UNLV faculty to the University of Texas at Houston to witness it's policy that every new student must have a lap-top computer. He says UNLV is moving in that direction too. In some ways, he says, computers when used for on-line courses are even better than new classroom facilities.

HARTLEY: We do have some evidence that there's some students who are more apt to participate in an on-line discussion than actually volunteer information in class. Where as in a face to face class it is easier for students to kind of sit in the back and retreat from the discussion.

PLASKON: So this year, the university is building a journalism department with 10-million dollars worth of equipment funded by the Greenspun family, a science and technology building with facilities for physical experiments too and student recreation facilities. All of them require hands-on face-to-face activities that can't be replaced by computers.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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