University plans major building projects

The University of Otago is set to begin work on a major capital development programme, with a number of significant building projects ''likely'' to get under way in the next year.

Among the projects known to be in development are a $50 million to $100 million plan to replace the university's school of dentistry, plans for a new aquarium and a $50 million earthquake-strengthening plan.

Financial services director Grant McKenzie said in the university's financial statements to the end of February that some of the $115.8 million it had in ''cash on hand'' had been set aside for construction projects.

''The cash on hand is tagged for significant capital projects on the priority development plan, some of which are likely to start late 2013 or early 2014,'' he said in the report tabled at last week's finance and budget committee.

When contacted yesterday, Mr McKenzie declined to specify how much of the cash on hand was tagged for capital development, instead directing queries to the university's media team. The media team did not respond to questions by day's end. Included in the priority development plan is $50 million set aside for earthquake strengthening on some of the university's buildings, which it aims to complete by 2019.

The university is still finishing its seismic assessment programme, but five buildings had been found to be earthquake-prone by last month, meaning strengthening work would be needed.

The university's council has approved in principle plans to replace its ageing dental school and its aquarium, which was abandoned last year after it was found to be earthquake-prone.

The only large new project on which the university has publicly committed to begin construction this year is a $6.254 million ''state-of-the-art'' child-care centre in Castle St. Property services director Barry MacKay said at a capital development meeting last week the draft design for the centre was almost complete and construction was to begin in June.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie said the university's construction plans were ''good news'' for the local economy, especially if local companies carried out the work.

However, he was keen not to overplay the importance of the university's capital expenditure, saying it was a ''drop in the bucket'' compared with the overall spend on construction in Dunedin.

Another significant project the university is working on is a plan to build a new facility to accommodate growth in its Christchurch medical campus.

The university bought a $5.5 million piece of land in Christchurch last year, but plans to build on it were put on hold after the Government reserved the option to forcibly buy the land as part of a planned new ''health precinct'' in the city.

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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