Nearly five years after the U.S. economy first spiraled into recession, the local construction industry, like much of Rhode Island’s labor force, is still struggling to get to its feet.
But there are a few bright spots for local trades, and as higher education continues to be one of the greatest drivers of growth, a symbiotic relationship has gained particular significance: Colleges and universities expand their footprint while investing in projects that offer much-needed employment opportunities to local workers.
Since 2010, this has been particularly true at Providence College, which is in the midst of a concerted building and renovation campaign to improve the school’s facilities. Approved in 2011, an overarching strategic plan has guided $92.3 million in capital-improvement projects, many of which dovetail with curricular and other academic aims.
“When outside rating agencies looked at Providence College in the past, one of our weaknesses was that our physical plant was older than our competitors, so it was a competitive disadvantage,” said John Sweeney, senior vice president and chief financial officer. The changes, he added, will ensure that facilities “reflect the quality of our programs.”
The effort began during the summers of 2010 and 2011 with a renovation of Harkins Hall, PC’s inaugural building – and one in such bad shape that the school considered demolishing it before deciding to undertake extensive renovations.
Its most recent finished project is the new Ruane Center for the Humanities, which was scheduled to be completed July 17. The 63,000-square-foot center is set to become PC’s signature academic building, hosting its Department of Western Civilization. Under a new core curriculum, the school is requiring all students to take Western civilization five days a week for two years.
“We’re moving away from large lecture classes into smaller sections, more interactive sections,” Sweeney said. “We needed spaces to accommodate that.”
The college’s other construction projects, which it has undertaken largely during summers and on the periphery of campus to minimize disruption to students, include:
• An eight-year campaign, approximately one-third completed, to renovate residential dorms.
• An expansion and renovation of Schneider Arena, home to the ice hockey rink, set to be finished Sept. 15.
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