December 15, 2017 | last updated December 15, 2017 1:12 pm
Five We Watched in 2017

UConn's top designer Cruickshank cleared big projects from her '17 to-do list

Photo | HBJ File
Photo | HBJ File
UConn Chief Architect Laura Cruickshank oversaw completion of several important building projects this year, perhaps none more so than UConn's relocated suburban campus to Hartford.

Here is a look back at the five business, nonprofit and higher education leaders we watched in 2017.

Laura Cruickshank, UConn's chief architect-master planner, got to check off this year several major buildings on her project to-do list.

In August alone, Cruickshank and her team of design, engineering and construction overseers pulled off the wraps on a 320-bed residence hall in Stamford — UConn's first student housing not built on its flagship campus in Mansfield's Storrs section.

But the highlight was the Aug. 23 grand opening of the university's relocated West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford, the centerpiece of which was the $140 million redo of the former Hartford Times building at 10 South Prospect St.

"Universities don't get to open new campuses very often,'' Cruickshank said.

The building houses 160,000 square feet of classroom, lecture and faculty space, along with 19,000 square feet of retail space. Well before UConn's Hartford campus opened, downtown apartment landlords and developers and retailers scrambled to revamp existing or build new space to accommodate the more than 1,000 extra feet the campus has since brought to downtown.

"The campus opening in Hartford, in terms of what we're trying to achieve … all of that has been achieved,'' Cruickshank said. " … People just come up to me and say how excited they are to have UConn in downtown Hartford.''

But the Hartford and Stamford projects were among other juicy morsels of her full development-construction plate in 2017, some of which will be completed in 2018 and beyond.

In all, more than $385 million worth of new construction and renovation projects for another science-focused building, athletic and student-life facilities, among others, were in various planning and design stages in 2017, according to UConn's April 2017 planning documents.

"Lots of stuff going on,'' Cruickshank said.

At the main campus, a $10 million replacement of the 2,093 aged ceiling tiles that comprise Gampel Pavilion's geodesic dome was completed well ahead of the start of the 2017 women's and men's basketball season.

Also completed was the $95 million, 115,000-square-foot Engineering and Science Building and the $162 million, 114,000-square-foot Innovation Partnership Building, a linchpin of UConn's Technology Park.

Cruickshank said she is most proud that all the completed projects came in either under budget or on time, or both.

Meantime, renovations are about to begin on the south wing of the Gant Building, home to several departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Gant west wing will be renovated next, and prior to beginning the final phase in the north wing, a new science research building will be constructed to house the current north wing occupants.

Next spring, work will begin on the second phase of improvements to UConn's fine-arts facilities, including a budgeted $24 million, 31,000-square-foot addition and upgrades to Nate Katter Theater and related drama-music facilities.

In between managing their extensive construction-renovation checklist, Cruickshank said her team implemented new project-management software that, among other things, will allow UConn "to improve our ability to issue change-orders in a timely way.''

Architects and engineers rely on such orders to communicate in the field any alterations to a project's design blueprint. Change-order mixups can delay or add complexity to a project's construction, ultimately impacting its cost.

UConn also faces tough funding decisions for its curriculum- and building-project roster for 2018 as a result of the state budget, which cut significant funding to the school that will delay certain projects.

Read all Five We Watched profiles.

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