Students Return to a Rejuvenated Taylor Hall and Other Improvements as ‘Opportunity Meets Preparedness’

Posted August 18th, 2009 at 11:05 am.

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Taylor Hall in June

“Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said.

In September of 2008, weeks before Emanuel first uttered that now-famous axiom, Bryn Mawr College Trustee Cynthia Archer, Chief Financial Officer John Griffith, Chief Administrative Officer Jerry Berenson, and Facilities Director Glenn Smith decided to see if there was some way Bryn Mawr College could benefit from what appeared at the time to be a pending financial crisis.

“We knew there was restoration work on our historic campus that was going to have to be done within the next few years. We made a strategic decision, based on the fact that in a weak economy you can get work done at better prices, to bid out what would normally be 2-3 summers’ worth of work for this summer and see what we got back,” says Griffith.

The result has been that—at a time when many colleges have seriously curtailed repair and restoration efforts—Bryn Mawr’s campus bristled with scaffolding, and the rumble and clang of construction equipment signal a potential savings that Griffith estimates at about $1 million.

Taylor Hall in August

Taylor Hall in August

Griffith acknowledges that during a time when the College had made difficult decisions about ways to reduce the operating budget, some might scoff at the idea of increasing spending on building repair and maintenance. But he insists that not doing so would have been short sighted.

“These are projects that needed to be done. The only choice is to spend the money now, when you can get more bang for your buck, or to wait until the buildings deteriorate, prices go back up, and contractors are harder to come by,” he says.

Rock-bottom interest rates made the decision to accelerate the College’s capital plan even easier, says Griffith, who was able to get funding for the work at a less than one-percent interest rate.

As an example of the savings achieved by the College, Facilities’ Smith points to work being done at Denbigh Hall. “In a normal year, we would probably just tackle one maintenance project in a particular dorm,” explains Smith.

“But pricing was so competitive this year that we will be repainting, re-carpeting, and replacing the lighting in Denbigh Hall— all within the original budget.”

What was planned to be a three-summer, phased project to replace plumbing and refurbish bathrooms at Erdman Hall has yielded such outstanding bid results that the project is being compressed into two summers with a projected savings of approximately 30 percent below original estimates. Another multiphased project to perform structural and masonry repairs at Pembroke Hall has the potential to cost 40 to 50 percent less than originally estimated.

“Not only have we been able to save the College money, but we’ve also been fortunate to partner with outstanding contractors who have done an amazing job bringing campus landmarks like Taylor Hall back to their original glory,” says Smith.

Compressing the time span over which this repair work is being performed has not only yielded better prices—it will also reduce the overall disruption of normal operations on campus and free up the buildings sooner for summer programs.

“It’s much more efficient to have a contractor come in one time and do all the work than to do it over multiple summers. The fewer times you have to have the same equipment and work done, the better,” says Griffith.

“This was an instance where opportunity truly met preparedness,” says Archer. “John Griffith and Jerry Berenson showed great leadership in finding the financial resources to allow the College to take advantage of the opportunities we had to make lasting improvements to our wonderful campus. And we could not have had these terrific results without the dedication and skill of Glenn Smith, Jim McGaffin, and the whole buildings and grounds team at Bryn Mawr.”

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