URBANA — A “design error” by an outside architectural firm delayed the installation of a solar roof on the University of Illinois’ newest engineering building and will cost the state — or the company — more than $1.2 million, officials say.

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Building, which opened in 2014, was supposed to have a rooftop solar array soon after it was completed, but it is just now being installed this summer.

The original architect, SmithGroupJJR of Chicago, won the bid in 2008 to design the $95 million building, a project managed by the state’s Capital Development Board. The state provided $47.5 million for the project, and the UI covered the rest with donations, corporate support, grants and institutional funds.

The design, approved in 2010, included energy-saving features to achieve “net zero” energy use and LEED platinum status, the highest level under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green-building rating system.

The solar array was to be installed in a separate but parallel project, said Michael Bass, UI senior associate vice president for business and finance.

The UI purchased 950 solar panels for the new array, funded in part by the Student Sustainability Committee and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, according to the UI.

But the work was delayed, and UI officials blamed the state’s budget impasse for holding up funding.

Administrators and state officials now say “design deficiencies” were discovered when the engineering firm hired to design the new solar array, Hansen Engineering, found that the building’s structure wouldn’t support it, and modifications would be needed.

That error created “a significant delay,” Bass told UI trustees last week.

Builders had to incorporate the structure into the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building project. In July 2017, trustees agreed to transfer more than $1 million for the solar roof to the larger project.

Bids for the work came in last month, and additional funding is needed to fix the structural deficiencies and support installation of the solar panels, according to a board item prepared for UI trustees.

The work, totaling about $3 million, involves reinforcing steel supports for the rooftop solar array and installation of the panels themselves, said CDB spokeswoman Nicole Wilson.

The UI agreed to pay another $725,375 for the solar panel installation, bringing its total share to $1.73 million, officials said.

The Capital Development Board will pay for the modifications, though it’s negotiating with SmithGroup to cover that cost, Wilson said. She put that cost at $1.27 million, though the UI agenda item said it was $1.47 million.

UI trustees approved the university’s additional outlay and project budget increase on Thursday, bringing the total cost for the building to $98.2 million.

“The CDB has been negotiating with SmithGroup since November 2017 to reach an agreement under which SmithGroup agrees to pay for the structural modifications necessary,” Wilson said in an email. “These negotiations are ongoing.”

SmithGroup spokesman Dave Whitman said Friday he couldn’t comment in detail.

“We’re actively working with the university to complete the projects, and we’re committed to seeing it through to a successful completion,” he said.

Wilson said a contract for the work will be awarded within the next 30 days. The project will wrap up in late 2018 or early 2019.


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