What’s going on with the Core Sciences Facility?

“Soooo, what’s been going on with that new science building?”, you ask. Well, if you’ve been reading the Muse regularly, you might have noticed there’s been a dearth of information on the status of the much-hyped Core Sciences Facility, which you might otherwise know as “the vacant lot next to the university center”.

As your intrepid science editor, I thought it would be prudent to provide you with an update for this semester’s final science and tech section on what we currently know about the project.

The actual construction work is to proceed in three phases. Phase 1—clearing the site and laying the foundations—which has been completed for over a year now, as evidenced by the large open-air gravel pit across from the education building. Phase 2—the laying of structural steel, filling in of floors, and most of the actual work that comes with constructing a building—was projected to cost somewhere around $200 million, which constitutes the bulk of the construction costs for the set budget of $325 million.

In July of 2016, the university administration canceled the original tender, an invitation for contractors to bid on the contract to do the work, for phase 2 of the construction, due to the fact that the bids received from construction companies were higher than expected. A revised tender was issued in fall of 2016, and bids were opened in March of 2017.

As of the Board of Regents meeting on March 16, 2017, a recommendation has been made for the award of the main construction contract—that recommendation has now gone to the provincial government for approval, a process which is expected to take three to five weeks to complete. The exact numbers for the bid, as well as the identity of the contractor chosen by the board, were not provided by the administration.

“The Core Science Facility is Memorial’s highest infrastructure priority,” said Dave Sorensen, MUN’s Communications Director.

“The research and teaching space will be occupied primarily by the Departments of Biochemistry, Biology and Chemistry in the Faculty of Science, and the Departments of Electrical, and Computer Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science,” said Sorensen.

The specifics of the revised building plans—including any changes to the proportion of the building allocated for student and teaching labs, lecture halls, and student organizing space — were not disclosed, but Sorensen says “for the re-tender, we were able to make changes to the specs without changing the functional properties of the building.”

There is currently no word on the fate of the super dope whale skeleton seen in preliminary artististic conceptions of the building’s lobby, however.

Back in the fall of 2016 when I was writing about the original delay in construction, I spoke to MUNSU’s then-Director of External Affairs Brittany Lennox, who provided the following opinion on the state of affairs.

“It’s extremely problematic that MUN has spent so much money, and commissioned some of the largest design firms in North America to produce designs and estimates, and yet the bids were so far above what MUN has budgeted for it,” said Lennox.

“I think there needs to be some hard questions about what happened here—did MUN and the companies it’s working with just do a bad job of estimating costs? Did the bidding firms bid higher than reasonable? MUN has a terrible reputation for having buildings go way over budget—how much is that building actually going to wind up costing?”

It is currently unclear when construction is expected to resume, but more information will hopefully be announced in the coming months as the process continues.