Construction of $125M engineering school underway at URI

Dignitaries prepare to break ground Monday, April 24, 2017, on the University of Rhode Island's $125 million engineering complex. From left: Kalvin Cho, a URI College of Engineering student; Michael Brandmeier, president and chief executive officer of Toray Plastics (America) Inc.; David M. Dooley, president of URI; Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island, and Raymond Wright, dean of the College of Engineering. (URI photo by Nora Lewis)

The University of Rhode Island is embarking on the biggest construction project in its history -- a$ 125 million school of engineering building.

The project brought dignitaries, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, to campus Monday for a groundbreaking ceremony.

“We’re in the top in the country in what we put into our K-12 system, which is a good thing,” Raimondo told NBC 10 News at the event, noting that she has consistently called for more spending in terms of higher education. “We’re at the bottom in terms of what we invest in higher ed.”

Voters approved a plan for the building two and a half years ago, and it’s just getting into the construction phase now.

The new building will be state-of-the-art in many ways.

There will be labs that are vibration proof, as well as glass walls that will allow for observation of students at work, along with computer labs, and everything a first-class engineering facility has.

“The goal of these facilities is to move the University of Rhode Island to the absolute forefront of engineering research and engineering education, and we know without any doubt whatsoever, that will pay enormous benefits to the state,” Dr. David Dooley, who is the president of URI, said.

The building is funded by a bond issue voters passed in 2014. It is another step in making the school of engineering an asset by attracting more and better students.

The project has garnered additional private money -- $7 million of investment, which the school hopes to build to a total of $20 million.

One of the companies pitching in $400,000 is Toray Plastics.

“At Toray, we work with students on the capstone project,” Mike Brandmeier, president Toray Plastics, said at the event. “Many of our full-time employees are URI grads. We’re fortunate to have this pipeline into the University for talent for the future, and believe me, we don’t take it for granted.”

Everyone involved certainly wants the new building to last. Maintenance of existing buildings has been a problem for the school, Dooley admitted.

“Our biggest problem is we have four million square feet, and a lot of that four million square feet is decades old,” he said. “Objectively, when you do a third party analysis of how much we should be spending on deferred maintenance and those kinds of capital programs. We’re not spending that amount of money because we don’t have it.”

Fortunately for taxpayers and private investors in the engineering school, the building slated for completion in a little more than two years will be kept up.

“The new buildings are not our issue,” Dooley said. “We budget for the maintenance of the new buildings and create the budgetary space to do that. And because they’re new and engineered to a high standard and very energy efficient, we can take care of their maintenance, and we’re committed to do that.”

While catching up on deferred maintenance is still a problem, state leaders are aware that higher education needs more financial support.

Dooley encourages that trend.

“The key thing is to get additional investment from the state from capital protection plan to enable us to take care of and renovate our older facilities,” he said.

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