Construction Department spends summer getting FIU ready for record number of students

It’s a steamy morning in early August, less than three weeks before the start of the 2010 Fall Semester when more than 40,000 students will descend upon FIU, and PG 5 Market Station is hopping.

Skill saws, drills and hammers provide a cacophonous backdrop to the 200 construction workers who are fanned out across the 600,000-square-foot site. They’ve been working days, nights and weekends to get the latest addition to Modesto A. Maidique Campus (MMC) ready for the 2010-2011 academic year.

The scene is emblematic of university improvements completed this summer under the direction of FIU’s Construction Department. Eleven project managers are juggling 538 projects. The tasks are varied and range from changing an electrical outlet to constructing shark tanks to building the $19 million School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA). The goal, however, is always the same: providing the best possible living and learning environments for FIU students, faculty and staff.

Improvements that faculty and students are likely to notice beyond the PG-5 Market Station (which houses Public Safety, a wi-fi cafe, parking, plenty of eats, and three large classrooms) and ongoing SIPA construction include the Carnival Student Center at BBC, a renovation of the Engineering Center lobby, the redesign of the loading dock area behind PC, the renovation of research labs, and the construction of offices and renovation of classrooms at MMC and BBC.

On the final day of the 2010 Spring Semester, workers began the classroom renovations. It’s a schedule the university has kept since 2007 when it stepped up its efforts to improve classroom conditions.

“The last class leaves, we’re in there,” says Berenguer.  “Faculty are teaching differently because of technology. That technology needs to be more accessible to our faculty and students.”

In the last four years, the department has overseen the renovation of 94 of FIU’s 167 classrooms. Eleven percent of the university’s classrooms are new and won’t need major work done for approximately five years. The department is on track to finish renovations of the remaining classrooms in the upcoming years.

The bigger projects can take anywhere from several months to more than a year to complete, and every job brings its own set of challenges. If a project appears to have stopped midway through its completion, Berenguer notes, there’s a good reason for it. Permits, inspections, a change in design necessitated by unforeseen circumstances (on-site problems or budget issues) can bring construction to a halt. That doesn’t mean the project isn’t moving forward, says Berenguer, who has been at FIU since 1993.

“People sometimes get frustrated because they think we’re doing nothing, and I understand how it might appear that way, but nothing could be further from the truth,” she says. “It takes a lot of planning and design work before the first wall is torn down or stake is driven in the ground.”

On tap for the coming school year: continued construction of the SIPA building, which will be occupied by December 2011. Additional projects, among others, include planning and design work for the U.S. Century Bank Arena, Science Classroom Complex, Stemple Complex, Hospitality Management Dining and Kitchen Expansion, and the Student Academic Support Complex.

— Emily Cochrane and Karen Cochrane