Old transformer delays new building’s opening

By Thomas Pardee

A power delay during construction in one of Columbia’s new buildings has pushed its move-in schedule back an entire semester, Columbia officials said.

The new space at 916-1000 S. Wabash Ave. had been tentatively set to be ready for use this semester. Now, due to a delay in replacing a power transformer, several departmental offices and classrooms, including the Student Activities and Interdisciplinary Arts offices, will have to wait until spring to settle into their new homes.

Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, said the delay came early enough for it not to have a significant impact on start-of-term operations.

“We knew it was going to happen earlier this summer, so we were able to schedule classes around it,” Berg said. “It’s a disappointment, but it’s beyond our control.”

John Kavouris, director of Construction Projects,  said the project had been progressing “exactly as planned” as of early last spring. But when Commonwealth Edison scheduled the transformer replacement for November, the project was forced to shift its start date from May to June. Now,  ComEd has rescheduled its work on the buildings for September, with work commencing toward an Oct. 1 completion date.

“We haven’t had too many surprises, other than the usual ‘old building’ surprises, until this,” Kavouris said. “It’s not that [ComEd] could not have done the work on our schedule, they just move at their own speed.”

Luis Diaz-Perez,  a spokesman for ComEd, said the electric company’s part of the project is ahead of schedule.

“ComEd is on track to deliver service at this location as soon as the customer is set to receive it,” Diaz-Perez said.

“We’re set,” Kavouris said in response to ComEd’s statement. “The work that we had to do to prepare has been done for a while now. If they wanted to come in this afternoon and set up that transformer, we’re ready for them.”

Transformers are large devices that take high-voltage electrical power off the main power line, or “grid,” and convert it to low-voltage electricity for use in homes or offices.

Kavouris said the transformer that needs to be replaced is underneath the sidewalk in front of the building. It’s a job for city officials only, he said.

“We can’t just buy a transformer ourselves and put it in,” Kavouris said. “[ComEd has] to do that.”

Kari Sommers, assistant dean of Student Life, said despite the project being on schedule, the delays couldn’t be avoided.

“It’s a complex process,” Sommers said. “If one thing goes wrong in this cycle, it sets off this chain reaction of other things. ComEd is a massive company, so we’re not their only client. You can plan and plan and plan, and with projects of this scale, things are going to come up.”

The buildings being renovated are now conjoined at the first two floors. The first floor will be the new home of the Interactive Arts and Media Department, while the second floor will be devoted to Interdisciplinary Arts offices as well as dance and theater studios.  The fourth floor will be the new Hub,  complete  with  all the student activities offices and the Student Government Association meeting center. The 5th floor will be home to more offices, including those for the security and facilities departments.

Sommers said that while the newly-conjoined building will be a great addition to campus, each department is prepared to wait another semester to utilize it.

“It could have been worse if there was [a department] that wasn’t currently housed somewhere, but right now everything has a home,” she said. “We haven’t lost anything. We are only poised to gain.”

Sommers said having the building ready  at all this year is an achievement.

“What we’re getting is something new and wonderful, that wasn’t even expected two years ago.”

Kelly Van Antwerp, SGA treasurer, said she’s been told to prepare to begin moving offices at the very end of the semester. She said she’s less bothered by the delay and more excited to be moved out of the basement at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., and into a new facility with a view.

“Now we can go into the office and know when it’s gone from day to night,” she said. “Because of this new building, we’re going to be able to take the Hub and make it cooler, newer, less dark, more inviting and a lot more fun for people.”