UNO plans renovations for Arts and Sciences Hall and other school buildings

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The Arts & Sciences Hall will be receiving “infrastructure” upgrades in 2018 and 2019, but the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s administration has its eyes set on even more expansion.

The southernmost building owned by First Data, a global payment technology services company, in Aksarben is being acquired by UNO with renovation projects due to begin in the summer of 2019.

This announcement comes as the Arts & Sciences Hall, the oldest and longtime trademark building on the northeastern corner of UNO’s Dodge Campus, was announced to receive upgrades to its internal utility systems.

This includes upgrades to the heating, air conditioning, restrooms and their accessibility, lighting, electrical distribution system, security and access control, telecommunication data and elevator controls.

Assistant Vice Chancellor of Facilities Management and Planning John Amend, said that the project upgrades “everything that serves the students, faculty and staff; but it’s not putting paint on the wall and doing those types of things because the money is being concentrated on the things that really make you comfortable when you’re in there.”

While the $12 million budget only includes utility upgrades, UNO and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold still hopes to procure enough funds through private donors to do a more robust renovation project in Arts & Sciences Hall.

“I want to do more than what’s in the budget, actually,” said Gold. “I’d like to do some stuff in classrooms and laboratories … and some significant internal work in the building.”

The original amount of money that UNO had asked for was $23 million to do a “more robust” renovation like that of Roskens Hall’s renovation in 2011, but that value was not matched by the state.

However, at 6902 Pine St. UNO will oversee an acquisition and renovation project to make room for its growing student population, which reached its third consecutive year of enrollment records.

Some of the programs that are expected to expand into the newly acquired building could be the Nebraska Applied Research Institute, collaborations with Offutt on language programs, UNO’s information technology services and STEM initiative programs at UNO.

The money used to renovate Arts & Sciences Hall and the soon-to-be former First Data building comes from equal halves of revenue from tuition and state-sponsored bonds, per legislative bill 957. It also includes money set aside for the ongoing renovation and addition project at the Strauss Fine Arts building and 17 other projects across the Nebraska University system.

“These dollars were specifically earmarked as a part of the University of Nebraska’s capital renewal program,” said Amend.

Neither a construction manager nor an architectural engineering firm have been chosen for the Arts & Sciences project yet.

“We have not even started design yet,” said Amend. However, plans are in place for improved Wi-Fi, LED lighting in the public spaces, better climate control and updated bathrooms – some of the more noticeable work done in the building.

“What it comes down to is it’s always hot, it’s always cold in there, light’s never good, never had enough places to plug my equipment in,” Amend said.

Since the building’s construction in 1938, it has seen few “significant” renovation projects. In the late 1990s there was an interior cosmetic redesign project to retrofit the building for a shakeup in the departments it would house.

Then in 2012, Arts & Sciences Hall got a new roof, new exterior paint, new windows and the cupola was refurbished.

These projects overlooked the plumbing, venting and electrical systems along with some of the bathroom fixtures – all of which are original.

When it comes to classes taking place during the renovation project, Amend said that UNO will “fall back on past experience” to ensure that classes can still be in session as the renovations go on.

The legislative bill that authorized the money for these projects was passed in 2016, dispersing $225 million throughout the NU campuses for renovations and replacements of buildings. This only covers for a fraction of the $900 million of deferred maintenance across the campuses, said Gold.

“The question was out of $900 million of need, what would be the top $225 million that we would do?” said Gold. ASH, Strauss and First Data “bubbled to the top of that list.”

Gold said that there would be more money to come for other projects across the campus per private donors along with tuition and state bond revenues.

“The goal is to make for a better living environment for our students and produce resources to make you more successful,” said Gold.

As for Amend, he just has one desire.

“I’d just like to get started.”