Cole Field House renovation increased to $196 million as project is expanded ‘in scope’

Published 8/8/17 in the Baltimore Sun

Two days after Maryland president Wallace D. Loh welcomed hundreds to the official opening of the school’s indoor practice facility at Cole Field House — the first phase of a project that reportedly would cost $155 million — the university disclosed on its website that the cost had increased by more than 25 percent.

In an Aug. 4 news release about the opening of the first phase to what Loh had called “ the largest fundraising project in the history of the University of Maryland,” the fact that the project was now costing $196 million was mentioned in a photo caption showing Loh and others on stage during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A university spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the $41 million increase in the overall cost was the result of the expansion in the scope of the project’s second phase, which is expected to be completed in 2019.

The June 30 release also stated that $19 million will be covered by the athletic department for the increase for “the athletic change in scope.” An athletic department spokesman said Tuesday that the money will come from a combination of “Big Ten athletic department revenue.”

According to Katie Lawson, the university’s chief communications officer, the university spelled out the increases in a release sent June 30 to various media outlets, including The Baltimore Sun.

The second phase of the project will include a weight room, offices and meeting rooms, and two outdoor practice fields for the football team, as well as more than 40,000 square feet for The Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance to do brain research, along with the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as well as an orthopedic clinic to treat athletes.

“As the scope has evolved, so has the size and vision for the use of the space,” the June 30 release said.

Barry Gossett, a member of the university’s Board of Regents and a longtime athletic booster, said Tuesday that the increase in cost stems largely from the “clinical and medical additions, putting all kinds of equipment in there,” as well as some changes in the plans for its use by the football team.

There was not a significant overrun in construction costs, said Gossett, a retired builder. “The bids came in close to what the estimates were.”

An additional $7.5 million, which has been earmarked for the “expanded research enterprise,” will come in preauthorized funds from the state of Maryland. An additional $14 million is expected to come from a combination of state and institutional resources, as well as from Big Ten revenue, Lawson said.

.“The university is tremendously proud of this project,” Lawson said Tuesday. “This is a point of pride for our students and our alumni and for anyone who is associated with the university.”

Loh said at the opening last week that “a little more than two-thirds” of the cost has been raised through a combination of state funds and private donations, including an initial contribution of $25 million from Maryland alumnus and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who did not attend the ceremony in College Park.

On June 30, it was announced that over $57 million of $90 million goal in private money had been raised. The targeted fundraising goal has not changed since the project was announced in 2014, according to Lawson.

The $40 million commitment from the state will go toward the academic and research enterprise, Lawson added.

In the past, the athletic department has dipped into the University of Maryland system’s auxiliary fund that has been used to pay for other projects. According to those familiar with sources of revenue for projects on the College Park campus, money in the auxiliary fund is derived from a percentage of student union activities, parking fees and tickets, and dining hall meal plans.

This is not the first time a significant campus project has cost more than initially thought.

When Comcast Center — now Xfinity Center — was about to be built in 2000 to replace Cole Field House as the home for many of the athletic teams, The Washington Post reported that state lawmakers were concerned when the initial proposed cost for the 17,000-seat arena suddenly went from a figure of $80 million that was first pitched to the state legislature three years before to $107 million.

Those familiar with the construction of Comcast Center, which opened in 2002 months after the men’s basketball team won the national championship, said at the time that Maryland State Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller helped guide the project through.

The Post referred to Miller as “the guardian angel” in helping the project sail through the legislature. Miller, who still holds his position in the legislature, remains a powerful ally in Annapolis.

The increase in the current project was presented to and approved by the university’s Board of Regents at a meeting in June in Frostburg.

Gossett, whose contribution to the current training facility used by the football team led to his name being put on the building, said it’s not unusual for the cost of this sort of massive project to increase when plans change.

“Like anything, the first number was based on best guesses or best estimates at that time of what the scope of the project would be, which goes back maybe a year and a half, maybe, two years,” Gossett said. “You draw it on the back of the envelope and say, ‘This is what we want and then you go to a conceptual drawing and then you probably can find the price a little bit better. When the concept is done, and you go to the architectural and bid drawings. That’s when you get the real numbers. It has ‘project scope creep,’ I call it.”