Capital construction coasts as big finish draws near

Leasing · Construction on the University Gateway Complex nears completion. Students will soon be able to lease apartments for next year. | Photo by Ian-Elston

Leasing · Construction on the University Gateway Complex nears completion. Students will soon be able to lease apartments for next year. | Photo by Ian-Elston

A pummeling economy has done little to slow progress on two of USC’s most important capital construction projects and both are on schedule to open next fall.

The University Gateway apartments, which will also serve as a restaurant and retail complex on the northwest corner of Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard, has made “significant progress,” said Matt Burton, a principal at Urban Partners LLC, the company developing the building.

Starting Sept. 5, students can lease apartments for the 2010-2011 school year at the Gateway Welcome Center in the University Village.

“Knock on wood, everything has gone smoothly,” Burton said. “There is no question as to when we will open.”

Retail and restaurant leases are currently under negotiation as well. Construction crews are now working floor by floor for the next six to nine months to finish all the interiors of the apartment units, which could eventually house as many as 1,600 students.

The highly anticipated Ronald Tutor Campus Center — under construction, along with Gateway, since 2008 — has also made progress over the summer. Once open, it should help alleviate campus student congestion, those involved say.

“The biggest thing we’ve accomplished is getting brick, stone and glass on the exterior of the building,” said Stan Westfall, a USC project manager. “We’ve been fortunate on the project that we haven’t had any huge delays.”

Administrators hope the progress will mean less disruption during the school year for students.

“We try to do things, such as utility work, that are more disruptive during the summer when there less students are around,” said Curtis Williams, vice president of campus development and facilities management services.

Construction began in summer 2008 to replace Commons, which held restaurants as well as mail and USCard services, with a more dynamic student center that would help boost USC’s profile.

“[Commons] wasn’t fitting for the top, elite university that USC is,” said Jason Cruz, the Campus Center project coordinator. “It wasn’t adequate for the students.”

The new center will include study areas, an outdoor plaza and dining options. The building will also be home to several offices, including Undergraduate Admissions, Undergraduate Student Government, and Student Life and Involvement and KSCR radio station.

“It’s going to be the new hub of the campus,” Cruz said.

Administrators are still deciding which organizations will be housed in the campus center, and when the center will be open to students.

Administrators also hope the campus center will be a model for new, greener buildings on campus. The building is USC’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building.

Recently, the center won a Green Building of America Award. Given by an organization called Real Estate & Construction Review, the honor recognizes the center’s environmentally friendly design and construction. The building uses more energy-efficient materials and did not use materials containing harmful chemicals.