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Volume 72, Issue 136, Tuesday, April 24, 2007

News

SERCC still mostly a shell 

Birx: More funding is needed to outfit majority of facility

by GRANT MEHLHOFF
The Daily Cougar

Construction of the Science and Engineering Research and Classroom Complex was supposed to help UH become one of the top research centers in the nation.

Progress on the $52 million SERCC research tower, however, has lagged behind the University's initial goal of an April 2006 opening.

When the SERCC was being planned, the UH administration decided to erect a research facility that would account for future growth even though the funds were not yet available to properly outfit the building with labs, equipment and offices.

"In effect, a rather bold decision was made to build a bigger building -- but one not outfitted on the inside with all the equipment it would eventually need," Donald Birx, UH vice president for research, said. "As a result, only the shell structure was built. It was contemplated that additional funds could be raised to complete the building over time."

Because of financial constraints, however, only a small portion of the five-story building is close to being ready for occupancy, Birx said. Currently, 10 to 15 percent of the building's 123,806 square feet have been converted to usable space in the form of offices on the upper floors and a state-of-the-art research facility on the first floor.

While the facility has yet to be finished, it was always intended to be tailored to the needs of the faculty. This would allow incoming faculty members the opportunity to help design and equip the space they would use, Birx said. 

Even after the floor plan is fleshed out, additional millions of dollars will need to be raised to properly furnish high-level labs, Birx said.

Despite the obstacles, the University continues to move forward with the completion of the new complex. This includes a budgetary request of up to $11 million for next year.

"We need to have an architect finish the plans for the internal layout of the building, then proceed with the build-out of the office and laboratory space and purchase and move in the lab equipment," Birx said. "The budgetary plan for the coming year requests $3 to $5 million for core equipment and $4 to $6 million to jump-start the build-out. I am hopeful that it will be approved." 

UH Provost Donald Foss has commissioned a study to determine how to best configure campus space for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Cullen College of Engineering, Birx said. The study -- which will involve an external firm as well as deans, faculty and staff -- will look into the renovation of existing buildings as well as the completion of the SERCC building.

"We contemplate approval of tuition revenue bond funding for the renovation of these facilities, and work should begin shortly thereafter," Birx said.

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