Speaking Out

In Dr. Shapiro's letter below, quotations are from Almanac's May 13 story on Trustee actions of May 3.--Ed.

Questioning Costs

Wow! "A $3.35 million renovation of one-and-a-half floors of Blockley Hall for use as research computing offices for the Center for Epidemiology and Biostatics" in what are presently already offices. "Design fees and related expenses of $8.4 million toward a new Wharton School facility ..."

No wonder Penn tuition is so high. I wonder if I can sell these folks the Brooklyn Bridge?

-- Bernard H. Shapiro, Professor of Biochemistry, Animal Biology/Vet

Response to Dr. Shapiro (I)

I am delighted to echo your concern that Penn's resources not be spent frivolously. As Director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, however, I think it is important to point out some features of this expenditure that were not included in the brief Trustee action on our space renovation reported in Almanac.

First, the cost quoted is a total project budget, including all fees and furniture as well as construction and contingencies, and we can assure you this budget will be managed very tightly to maximize the residual unspent funds upon project completion. Regardless, tuition funds were not used for this purpose, so your concern about its impact on tuition can be allayed.

Second, given our type of research, these are not academic offices, but in fact this is our research space. We have been extremely productive in terms of the grant funding we bring into the University per square foot of space, including, of course, indirect expenses. Thus, this is a short-term investment by the institution which will pay off for years to come. Further, we are creating a state-of-the-art computing consortium center to serve not only epidemiology and biostatistics, but also the information technology needs of all the clinical researchers in the Medical Center. Finally, despite the fact that Blockley Hall was constructed about 1964, with its space configured to serve as a residence hall in support of the old Philadelphia General Hospital, this is now a critical building in the core of the Medical Center complex. This 166,000-square-foot building requires substantial infrastructure renovation to continue its conversion from a dormitory into a modern, code-compliant functional research office building. We will be increasing the occupancy on the Epidemiology and Biostatistics floors from an existing capacity of 24 people per floor to an average of 39 on each floor, or a 63% occupancy increase. Absent these renovations, this space would be, at worst, useless, and, at best, extremely inefficient. Space is a scarce resource at Penn, and careful use of Penn's space requires that it be used as effectively and efficiently as possible. Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

-- Brian L. Strom, Professor and Chair, Biostatistics & Epidemiology
and Director, Center for Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics

Response to Dr. Shapiro (II)

With respect to the portion of Dr. Shapiro's letter that concerned the Wharton School's new structure, Dean Gerrity deferred to the Facilities Management Office. --Ed.

There certainly can be no debate that $8.4 million is a considerable amount of money. However, this it represents the entire pre-construction costs of a 300,000 gross-square- foot, world-class academic building on a very important site, the corner of 38th and Locust Walk. The largest single component is the A/E (architectural/engineering) fees for their involvement through to the opening of the building. In addition, other major costs are site surveys, geotechnical investigations, construction costs' estimating and scheduling, legal and administrative fees, printing and reimbursables.

The A/E team was chosen through the formal University process for the selection of A/E firms, which considers both professional qualifications for a particular project and cost. We invited six qualified firms to submit proposals based on a specific building program and specific site development guidelines, which were developed through the efforts of the Wharton School, Facilities Management, and the Design Review Committee, etc. The design of the building must not only comply with University architectual design guidelines, but also meet the challenges of the program while maintaining the scale of Locust Walk. Final selection of the architect was made after consideration of the written proposals and interviews of each A /E team by a committee representing Facilities Management, the Wharton School and the Dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts.

-- Art T. Gravina, Vice President Facilities Management


Volume 43 Number 36
June 17, 1997

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