College Center Project Boosts Local Economy
Oct. 1, 2009 -- Excitement on the Western State College campus is building as construction of the College Center nears completion.
And with a first-run movie theater, a grand ballroom and several conference rooms, local officials are saying the greater Gunnison Valley community has much to look forward to as well.
Beyond campus, the building project already has been a boon to the Gunnison Valley economy, pumping millions in local job wages and business revenue.
According to an economic impact report compiled by general contractor Nunn Construction, the building project has generated more than $3.2 million in local revenue. The figures in the report range from the former Student Union’s demolition in July 2008 to new construction work through July 2009.
“Nunn Construction, along with our major subcontractors, has demonstrated great commitment towards hiring local employees as well spending monies with local vendors,” said Andy McGarrity, project superintendent for Nunn Construction.
The company and several non-local subcontractors have paid nearly a half-million dollars in payroll to Gunnison Valley residents working on the project. Local laborers have made up between 40 to nearly 60 percent of the workforce, McGarrity said.
Gunnison resident Dennis Ferguson is among those who have benefitted from the job opportunities provided by the subcontractors. After getting laid off last summer, Ferguson, who is a journeyman plumber, approached Cobb Mechanical for a position. He was hired on as a foreman.
After the completion of the College Center, Ferguson will continue to work for the Colorado Springs-based company. He hopes to return to Gunnison next spring to work on the college’s Taylor Hall renovation project, which Nunn Construction also is overseeing.
“After I was laid off, I was looking for anything I could do to stay here,” Ferguson said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done or where I’d be if it weren’t for this project or Cobb.”
Bible Electric, another major subcontractor from Colorado Springs, put forth significant effort to hire locally, noted Greg Weihs, a 30-year Gunnison resident who has worked for the company since March.
Weihs had been an independent journeyman electrician and when the jobs stopped coming in, he tried to find work for his apprentice at Bible. In addition to hiring his apprentice, the company also offered a position to him.
“This project has been a godsend, especially at this point in the recession,” Weihs said. “It’s put me and the other locals to work and has been positive for the local businesses.”
Housing and meal costs for non-local workers also provide significant income to area businesses. Add to that other direct expenditures — such as services, equipment rentals, material purchases, shopping and entertainment costs — the revenue for local businesses totals $1.6 million, and counting.
For local mom-and-pop shops such as Western Lumber, working with Nunn Construction has provided a “nice boost” to their business, said co-manager Roxie Rule.
“Nunn Construction has been the first non-local contractor that has approached us and told us that they wanted to use us as much as possible,” she said. “They have been fantastic to work with and are understanding of our situation, being located a greater distance from distributors.”
Nunn Construction also directed nearly $1.75 million to nine local subcontractors. Among those was CSI Concrete Systems, which poured the foundation and provided other concrete work for the 73,000 square-foot building.
As McGarrity poured over receipts and tallied the direct local expenditures, he was surprised to see how much had been spent locally.
“All the little things add up and I venture to estimate that we’ll be over $4 million in local expenditures by the time construction is complete,” he remarked. “We’re going to use the same due diligence on the Taylor Hall renovation to maintain the same percentages of local labor and the amount spent locally.”
More than a ‘Student Union’
The term “Student Union” has become old-school on campus. With the new name comes a new role for the building as a gathering place for both the campus and local communities.
“This building integrates opportunities for more community and student interaction to occur,” said Gunnison City Manager Ken Coleman.
The building itself is an impressive structure that incorporates environmentally sustainable features into the design, such as the use of passive solar with large, south-facing windows and native, low-water landscaping. It will be the third building on campus to garner Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
Artwork by WSC students also will grace the center and college officials say other aesthetic features, such as stained glass, fireplaces and even an outdoor fire pit, are designed to create a welcoming and attractive environment for visitors.
When some of the Gunnison Valley’s government officials toured the WSC College Center in September, they had just one word to describe it: “Wow.”
“I’m thinking about going back to college to just to hang-out here,” joked Gunnison County Commissioner Paula Swenson. “It’s an incredible facility not only for the college but for the community as a whole. The movie theater especially is a great addition for the community.”