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Education

Iowa State wants to build $40M engineering building with donations

Regents asked to approve 'alternative delivery methods'

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (The Gazette)

Explosive enrollment growth across Iowa State University’s nationally-ranked College of Engineering has created “considerable space constraints,” compelling administrators to pitch plans to build a $40 million “Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Building.”

Plans unveiled Wednesday show the proposed campus addition — consisting of about 52,000 gross square feet, or 29,000 net — would sit south of ISU’s Howe Hall, north of the Thielen Student Health Center and just a short walk from the Black Engineering building, which currently houses the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering.

ISU is asking the Board of Regents during its meeting Thursday to approve planning for the project, which officials said would be funded entirely through private giving. The university hasn’t formally started fundraising for the building, according to College of Engineering Dean Sam Easterling.

“There is interest, however,” he said in an email. “And launching the planning process will help us more fully communicate the positive impact this project will have on our students, faculty, and staff.”

ISU’s request of the board also includes permission to consider using “alternative delivery methods” — as opposed to the more traditional method of bidding a project’s design and construction separately.

Alternative methods — including design-build, which bids both portions to one entity — have become increasingly popular on the regents’ campuses, even as some lawmakers and critics across the trades accuse the universities of violating state law.

In considering the best method for this project, according to board documents made public Wednesday, ISU will weigh advantages and disadvantages of the various modes “to afford the best value and managed risk to the project.”

Issues the administration would consider include “the need for accelerated design;” a method’s ability to maximize competition and the use of Iowa-based contractors; finding construction crews with “the necessary specialized knowledge or expertise;” and the benefit of heightened collaboration between the design and construction phases.

But Easterling told The Gazette the project is not necessarily being accelerated.

“We are asking, at this point, to begin the planning process, which will enable us to move quickly if funding becomes available,” he said, saying ISU hasn’t decided on a delivery method.

Board documents indicate enrollment growth has cramped ISU’s thriving engineering college.

Currently, the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering department occupies 22,300 square feet in the Black Engineering building, which it shares with the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Five years ago, the College of Engineering conducted a study revealing a “critical shortage of space” and concluding Mechanical Engineering needed an additional 80,000 net square feet. A separate assessment found Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering needed another 7,000 net square feet.

A new building would support those needs and more areas of study including: operations research and analytics; advanced manufacturing; human factors and ergonomics; and systems engineering and engineering management.

Last fall, the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering department reported 667 students — 504 undergraduates and 163 graduate students. Undergrad enrollment in that department has swelled 25 percent in five years.

For the College of Engineering as a whole, enrollment has nearly doubled in two decades — jumping from 5,376 in 2000 to 9,531 last fall.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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