Building upgrade cash gets OK at UA

$24M to renovate health, rec facility

Participants walk around a track at the HPER Building on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus in this April 3, 2009 file photo. "HPER" stands for "Health, Physical, Education and Recreation." (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

The University of Arkansas board of trustees approved an increase Thursday to the budget for the Health, Physical, Education, and Recreation building second-floor renovation at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, to $24 million.

The project actually began in 2019 with a $9 million budget in order to provide additional health and recreational facilities for a growing student population.

But that grew to $14 million as a result of additional deferred maintenance needs, according to UA System President Donald Bobbitt. The project was shelved in May 2020 because of the pandemic, but was reignited this year by student interest expressed through Associated Student Government.

The project remains "valid," but costs have increased to $24 million as a result of the three-year delay, inflation, increased construction costs, and high demand for construction work in the region, according to Bobbitt. The project will be funded by general obligation bonds supported by existing Facilities fees and -- potentially -- donor gifts, and while the project was necessary in 2019, it's "even more so now" that the university has record student enrollment of over 32,000.

"It costs us more now to do what was approved in 2019," but students are driving this, said UA Chancellor Charles Robinson. "We're committed to the health and welfare of our students."

The second floor is 130,000-square-feet, and this project is "more of a reconfiguration than a renovation, [as] we're actually gaining 10,000 square feet of usable space [and] doubling the size of the fitness center," said Scott Turley, associate vice chancellor for facilities. The project -- set for completion in the fall of 2025 -- will "improve the usefulness of the building and [provide] more space for student programs."

"It's funded by students for students," Turley added. The building was constructed in 1985 and has received minimal improvements since.

"I like that students want" this, said trustee Ted Dickey. "It's a great amenity for students, and I'm really excited about it."

Trustees also approved deletion of the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management with concentrations in Human Resources Management and Organizational Leadership and the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Retail -- both in the Sam. M. Walton College of Business at UA-Fayetteville -- effective next fall.