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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Professor: Science center could cost $400 million

University administrators said last month that no cost estimate for the proposed Science and Engineering Complex is available yet, but one economics professor approximates the building could cost upwards of $400 million, making the project far and away the most expensive in University history.

Professor Anthony Yezer – who specializes in real estate economics and has testified in front of Congress with expert opinion on mortgages during the financial crisis – said after conducting two different cost estimations, a “conservative” cost estimate for the SEC is about $400 million.

The University has continually declined to give a cost estimate for the project, saying one does not exist because the status of the building’s interior has not been solidified. Original cost estimates presented by the Faculty Senate in 2008 were between $180 and $270 million without scientific equipment.

Yezer said he used two methods to estimate the cost of the building: one using traditional economic theory, and the other by estimating the price per square foot and multiplying that by the square footage of the building. Yezer said both of these estimates produced nearly identical results at around $400 million.

An outspoken critic of the project since the University announced its intention to construct the science center, Yezer said he is not against the programming in the building, but rather the cost of the structure, which he said is too high.

“At what point would you say it is too much?” Yezer said. “What’s the maximum you are willing to spend? Presumably, if he’s a financial officer, he has to know what the maximum amount he’s willing to spend is, or at what point he will decide it’s so expensive that it wasn’t worth doing,” Yezer said, referring to Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz.

Katz said again this week he would not put an estimate on the building because it is too early in the planning stages of the building to speculate on potential costs.

“First and foremost, we are not going to put an estimate until we know about what we are going to build in it, because that is the only real valid way of doing it,” Katz said. “Could you build a building for what [Yezer] said? Absolutely. But have you seen all different kinds of buildings in your life? They have all different kinds of prices. It depends on the type of building, depends on what goes in it, depends on what level of finishes.”

Katz said the University is building the complex with a bottom-up approach, coming up with a plan for the building and then putting a cap on costs from there. He added that Yezer’s estimate is off, as the University is likely not going to build out two of the floors in the SEC – roughly 100,000 square feet – because administrators want to learn how the first several floors are utilized before completing other floors, a factor Katz said could lower costs by tens of millions of dollars.

Yezer said that the University has expanded too fast, amassing nearly $1 billion in debt over the past few decades. Because of the amount of debt the University has taken on to build residence halls and other academic buildings, Yezer said GW is now too reliant on tuition dollars to finance debt, a risky strategy in tough economic times. University President Steven Knapp, however, has said no tuition dollars will be used to fund the SEC.

“The reason we needed all the dorms is because we expanded the student body dramatically,” Yezer said. “We could have expanded the student body more slowly, this is all about timing. Eventually, yes, this campus should be built out to its highest density, the question is how fast you do it. But generally speaking, when people aren’t giving you a lot of money to build the buildings, you kind of build slowly rather than grow the student body as fast as we did.”

Yezer said he would rather see the money going toward the SEC to be spent on hiring full-time faculty members and endowing chairs of departments.

But Katz said that without more space, there would be nowhere to put more professors on campus.

“Where are we going to put the professors?” Katz said. “Most professors require an office and support space – in fact, all professors require offices and support space.”

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