$80 million in suburban college projects caught in state fight
Nearly $80 million in projects at suburban colleges and universities are in limbo after the state suspended all funding.
Across the state, $700 million in projects are caught in the financial headache caused by Illinois' budget mess, and officials have no estimate of how much more they'll need to dole out for stopping and, presumably, restarting them once there's a spending agreement.
About a dozen construction sites will need to be protected from winter at a cost of about $2 million, officials said.
Among the projects the state still owes money on in the suburbs are:
• More than $31 million for Harper College to renovate the engineering/technology center and build a student center
• $13 million for College of Lake County's technology building
• $60,000 to replace roofs at Illinois Youth Center in Warrenville
• $450,000 to tear down temporary buildings at College of DuPage
• $4.8 million in projects at the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles, including upgrading security, and $60,000 to replace roofs in Warrenville
• $246,000 in projects at the Elgin Mental Health Center
Gov. Bruce Rauner halted projects at universities, state parks, prisons and even Lincoln's Tomb in the spring, eyeing a rapidly approaching start to the budget year and no agreed-upon fiscal plan. An Associated Press analysis of records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows when work stopped July 1, it affected 419 contracts affiliated with 218 job sites. Of those, 95 were under construction, said Lyndsey Walters, spokeswoman for the agency administering the work, the Capital Development Board.
The first-year Republican and the Democratic-controlled legislature are now more than four months into the fiscal year with no budget. Rauner won't talk spending until he gets changes he says will make business less costly to run and restore taxpayers' faith in Illinois politics. Majority Democrats in the legislature want a tax increase with spending cuts to restore key programs.
Contractors had to pull equipment off locations; move and store materials; secure unfinished, sometimes-hazardous works sites; and watch the dispersal of their labor force, which, when it returns, will have likely earned a wage increase.
"This has not been pleasant," said Ric Krause, president of Chicago-area PATH Construction, whose company had to stop work on eight projects worth $26 million -- less than half of which, according to records, has been paid. With that much work in the hopper, PATH has a number of staff members who are experts on the specific projects but now have no work to do.
"It's not like we have eight more jobs that we're starting right now, we can send them over there," Krause said. "You're trying to keep a balance of keeping them on, paying them, and having them not do anything, waiting to hear when the job is going to start again."
Key among PATH projects is a building at Olive-Harvey Community College in Chicago that's 60 percent finished and was scheduled to open this month. It needs to be enclosed and heated against cold-weather damage, Krause said.
The CDB voted last month to free up $645,000 from its special projects fund for winterization work, which is expected to cost about $2 million for 11 sites statewide, Walters said.
Unfinished buildings inconvenience the owners, too, significantly so at colleges and universities. The AP's analysis showed $463 million -- 65 percent of the total cost of stalled projects -- is devoted to 81 campus projects at more than two-dozen schools. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had to find alternate classroom space for 100 students because work at the veterinary medicine school stopped.
The CDB will consider builders' requests to cover cost overruns, Walters said, and additional costs that are the state's responsibility would require a new appropriation. It might not be as easy as it sounds. Minnesota's government shut down for three weeks in 2011, and some affected contractors are still waiting to be reimbursed for the additional costs they bore, said Dave Semerad of Associated General Contractors of Minnesota.
Builders play a "delicate game" arranging money, machinery and labor in optimal weather, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the industry group Associated General Contractors of America.
"You've got just the right amount of resources at just the right time in just the right places for when you need them," said Turmail, adding that unexpectedly shuttering a project "is both frustrating and costly."
Companies that have poured foundations and erected steel beams aren't the only ones hurting. Consultants BRiC Partnership, with an office in Belleville, has more than $1 million in state contracts for mechanical or electrical design of eight halted projects. Tom Buchheit, the company's managing member, said few had gotten underway, but subtracting expected cash flow from the books can keep a builder up at night.
And when the budget crisis is eventually resolved and stalled projects are giving the green light, some contractors -- and subcontractors -- will no longer be available.
"The private sector is very hot right now," said Brad Benhart, a former contractor and professor at Purdue University's School of Construction Management Technology. "They're going to go find other work, and it's going to be in the private sector, and they're going to be paid promptly.
"It's going to be very hard for the state to get contractors to come back."
• Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar and political writer John O'Connor contributed to this report.