DURHAM — Even with questions about the building's safety and long-term financial viability lingering, an N.C. Central University official thinks the university still should take ownership of a private residence hall near campus.
Bijoy Sahoo, named interim vice chancellor for finance and administration after Chancellor James Ammons departed last month and took several top administrators with him, recently reviewed NCCU's plans to buy Eagle Landing, the 408-bed Brant Street residence hall that state regulators contend has a slew of design and construction deficiencies.
Sahoo said this week that NCCU should still pursue the purchase while making some safety improvements to the 3-year-old building. But he also said many of the changes a State Construction Office report recommended in May -- including a $3.7 million overhaul to the heating and air conditioning system -- aren't needed now and wouldn't make financial sense.
In all, the state report suggested more than $9 million in fixes. A similar inspection report several months earlier had found $4.7 million in deficiencies.
The repairs to the heating and air conditioning system, Sahoo said, are "something we may need in the future, but at the same time, you have to look at cost/benefit." State regulators say the system is inefficient, performs poorly and is not the right design for an apartment-style building such as Eagle Landing.
"Let's look at what we must do to enhance safety, and do it," Sahoo said, "but let's separate those things that would be nice to do but aren't necessary."
In its May 2007 report, the State Construction Office said the heating and air-conditioning system, which uses only electricity for energy, costs about 25 percent more per square foot than most models in a comparable state university dormitory.
And in an inspection note in the State Construction Office's file on Eagle Landing, regulators reported in April that the building is deteriorating "at a faster rate" than they had determined upon inspection of the building the first time, the previous fall.
"Unless the HVAC system is completely revamped to a central, four-pipe operation with boiler and chiller, the current system will not only experience more and more physical problems, but operating costs will escalate," the note said.
An earlier note in the same state construction file deemed Eagle Landing "not a bargain for NCCU" because of its many design flaws and suggested the university will end up taking a huge financial hit over time.
"After incurring whatever initial cost is necessary, NCCU will still be left with basically an apartment building and the ongoing, high operating expense associated with such an operation whereas a true dormitory is needed," the note states in part.
The notes are unsigned but bear the initials PJD. A spokeswoman for the state's administration department, under which state construction is housed, said the writer of both notes was Phil DuBose, a project monitor in construction administration.
Through a state spokeswoman, Dubose declined to comment further on the memos.
The traditional, two-to-a-room dormitories the state has for decades built for UNC system campuses are generally expensive to build but last 50 to 100 years, said Rob Nelson, the UNC system's vice president for finance.
But in recent years, campuses have branched out -- at the behest of students looking for a different living situation -- to suite and apartment-style residences like Eagle Landing. Those often cost less to build but have about a 30-year life span, Nelson said. Ideally, universities would have a mix of both, he added.
"I don't think the campuses should be building all apartment-style or all 100-year buildings," he said.
Responding to a housing crunch brought on by a swell in undergraduate enrollment, NCCU officials in 2003 circumvented the usual, red tape-laden state construction process by forming a private foundation -- a common practice among UNC system campuses -- and building Eagle Landing privately. It is privately managed, but NCCU officials now want to pay off the building's debt and take ownership.
Before the university can do so, state officials must sign off on the building, and they have so far written two reports indicating many of safety and design problems. The building remains open and occupied because it passed the city of Durham's building department's inspection and has a valid certificate of occupancy.
In response to the state reports, NCCU officials have scrambled to make repairs. Mold and mildew problems have been fixed, Sahoo said. Additional doorways have been added and wall dividers removed in a conference room in response to fire concerns, and exits are also being added to a courtyard, Sahoo said.
The improvements are continuing and will likely cost $160,000, he said. It isn't yet clear whether the work will be completed by next month when students return to live in Eagle Landing, which is fully booked, Sahoo said.
"If I had one doubt about any student's security, I wouldn't put anyone in there," he said. "It's safe."
Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.