Lack of permits delays campus construction

By Andrew Moesel

As new construction in Chicago reaches almost unprecedented levels, the University is struggling to acquire the permits it needs to keep its master plan on schedule.

“Due to the enormous amount of requests for building permits in the past several years, getting certain permits has been a challenge,” said Hank Webber, vice president of government and community affairs. “As a result, we have fallen moderately behind schedule on some of the projects because of these permit issues.”

Permits have delayed construction on several University construction sites, leaving unused cranes and building materials scattered across campus.

The Ratner Athletic Center faced the worst problems dealing with zoning permits, causing almost a year to lapse between the planned and the actual groundbreaking.

Most recently, the new campus for the Graduate School of Business (GSB) has had difficulty obtaining a permit to move beyond construction of the foundation to the development of the steel super-structure that will constitute the frame of the main building. The GSB applied for the permit in October of last year and was not granted issuance until February 11.

“That amount of time is pretty standard for today,” said Kristen Lobbins-Cabanban, media correspondent at the Chicago building department. “I’m sure it’s not what they had hoped, but you have to take into account the holidays and the amount of construction that is occurring at this time in the city.”

The permit review period can vary greatly, however. Depending on the type of permit and the nature of the project, permits can take anywhere from two to six months to issue. The initial permits to lay the foundation for the GSB, for example, took less than two months to acquire.

It remains unclear if permit delays will push back the final completion date of September 2004 for the new GSB campus. “We’re not sure how this will effect the end project,” said Meredith Mack, associate vice president of facility services. “It’s still a little too early to tell.”

The GSB has hired additional workers to make up the time that was lost to the lengthy permit application process. While the additional cost to speed up the University’s time frame is hard to determine, supplementary workers earning overtime will undoubtedly raise price estimates.

The Interdivisional Research Building (IRB), located on 57th and Ellis Streets, has managed to remain relatively on schedule despite the permit bottleneck in the building department. Though it is still early in the construction process, the University forecasts its opening in the summer of 2005.

“The IRB has not had as much trouble . We have the foundation permit and are currently being reviewed for the full permit,” Mack said.

Originally slated to begin in December, excavation for the basement of the IRB began yesterday. For the next several months, between 75 and 100 trucks will be hauling debris away from the site through Hyde Park streets, according to a posting on the University Web site.

University administrators have been working diligently with city officials to minimize the amount of time the permits take to be issued. Mack said that although the University has experienced delays for some permits, other construction projects in the city have waited much longer.

“The city has been very good about this situation. We don’t blame them at all,” Webber said.

The close dialogue maintained between the city and the University has helped the Ratner Athletic Center get back on schedule after its initial woes. The new multi-purpose gym now plans to open this fall, though some past projections suspected it might not be open until winter quarter.

“We’ve lost some time, but we’re trying very hard to make it up,” Mack said.