CHAMPAIGN — The price tag for a new track and soccer complex at the University of Illinois has jumped by 50 percent, to more than $20 million.
UI officials say competition for Champaign-Urbana construction companies and rising prices for steel and aluminum are two factors in the cost increase for the Demirjian Park Project along St. Mary's Road in Champaign.
But they also blame inaccurate cost estimates by a consultant when the original design was approved in 2018.
The UI announced the project in late 2017 with news of a $7 million gift for the complex from the Demirjian family of Decatur.
In January 2018 trustees approved the project with an estimated price tag of $13.95 million and agreed to name it after the donors.
The complex was to create two new grass soccer fields — one for competition and one for practice — east of the existing soccer/track and field complex, which would also be renovated. The project included dual grandstands for both sports and a 16,800-square-foot building with locker rooms, training rooms, concessions, lounge and study spaces, sports medicine and coaches offices.
When the final design was approved by trustees in July 2018, the building had grown by 5,000 square feet but carried the same price tag.
The UI received bids for the project in March, and "unfortunately, the total cost of these projects has increased substantially," UI Vice President and CFO Avijit Ghosh told UI trustees at a committee meeting Monday.
The new cost is $20.95 million — a $7 million increase — which the full board of trustees will be asked to approve next week.
"The large number of construction projects being undertaken in Champaign-Urbana has caused construction costs to rise sharply there," Ghosh told trustees.
The UI received fewer bids for HVAC contracts and other work, resulting in higher prices, he said.
"There's about $300 million in construction projects going on in our market right now," said athletic spokesman Kent Brown, including the Champaign school district's renovation of its two high schools, apartment construction near campus and other university projects.
"One of the issues that you run into is that lack of a work force to cover all those jobs," Brown said.
Contractors sometimes bring in workers from larger cities when needed, he said, but "the fact is they've all got enough work," he said. "The job market is really tight."
Commodity prices on steel and aluminum have also risen, in part because of new tariffs, he said.
The project has also had some unanticipated costs in site preparation, Brown said. Some of the soil conditions weren't ideal for construction, and "there was more utility work than they expected," he said.
Cost estimates prepared by a consultant hired to put the original pricing together were also inaccurate, he said.
UI Trustee Stuart King expressed concern about the increase Monday. The committee discussed a similar issue with budget increases for other projects in March.
"It feels like it's always coming back as a cost-overrun," King said. "Maybe there's a way to have a better predictive model on what these things are going to cost."
Ghosh said the UI's approval process in the past "did not require very accurate cost estimation up front," but that process has since been changed.
The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics will cover the additional costs with its own income and gift funds, Ghosh said.
Brown said it wouldn't be practical to delay the project to see if the bidding market improves. Construction is on an "aggressive" timetable to minimize the disruption for soccer and track and field, he said.
The soccer fields are scheduled to be completed by the start of next fall's season, and the stadium for soccer would be finished by fall 2020. The track side would wrap up in spring 2021, in time to host the Big Ten championships. The UI won't be hosting any home outdoor track meets next year, and officials don't want any more delays, he said.
"The project affects a lot of our student athletes," he added. "It's important that it be done correctly."
Trustees will be asked to approve about $13.4 million worth of construction-related contracts for the project next week.
Board Treasurer Lester McKeever raised questions about the share of contracts going to minority companies. The project met the state's overall diversity goal, with 21 percent of contracts awarded to firms owned by women, minorities or veterans, Ghosh said.
But most of that went to women-owned firms — about $2.5 million — and $201,875 went to companies owned by minorities.
"This is kind of alarming," McKeever said.