In the 24 years Matt Morris has worked at Missouri State University, the idea of renovating the Grand Street underpass near Plaster Stadium on the south side of campus has been on the list of potential projects.
After major delays and a near doubling in the project budget, the 40-year-old underpass — connecting parking lots south of Grand with the campus north of the major Springfield street — will be completed this May.
Completion can’t come soon enough for MSU students and staff who cross the busy street, nor for drivers passing through the section just west of the National Avenue intersection.
“I think we’re good,” said Missouri State University President Clif Smart said of the project that has gone on for nearly two school years. “The elevator is in. I think they are wrapping up things. I am told we should be good to go. When the Tent Theatre opens in the summer, we should be good to go.”
Renovation of the underpass was first approved by MSU’s Board of Governors in September 2021, with an original budget of $3.8 million dollars. The scope of the project and unexpected challenges led to an increased budget of $6.6 million, approved in March 2022.
Sources of funding included the Federal Budget Stabilization Fund, the American Rescue Plan Act and university funds.
“That federal budget stabilization fund was a source that we had never seen before, but a project like this that impacts pedestrian traffic, vehicular traffic and connects the university in a way with accessibility,” said Morris, MSU’s vice president of administrative services.
“Also the economic impact that it has of making sure that we have safe crossing of Grand Street so that people can attend football games, Tent Theatre, classes, whatever they may be on campus for was also important.”
Temporary crosswalk caused sync issues with lights at intersection of Grand and National
Storm water, sanitary sewer infrastructure, LED lighting, handrails and landscaping are some of the amenities coming with the renovations made to the underpass. Additionally it has been made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), providing an elevator at the end of the underpass to provide safe passage to the surface.
Roughly 1,350 new parking spaces are available for students and faculty to use in the parking lot on the other side of Grand Street.
“You’ve got that many parking spaces that now connect to the main campus,” Morris said. “With a fully ADA-accessible pathway which we did not have before.”
The temporary crosswalk put in place at Grand has caused traffic issues due to the stoplight not being in sync with the lights at the intersection of Grand and National. Morris knows of the sync issue with the temporary light but knows it has worked as a temporary measure till construction is completed.
‘You know anytime you dig in the Ozarks, you’re gonna have challenges‘
The university managed this construction project using a delivery method called Construction Manager at Risk, or CMAR. This method manages the cost and streamlines the project. The engineer consulting firm for the project was Olsson and Nabholz Construction was the successful bidder to manage the project.
“Because of a construction management at risk project they are providing you a guaranteed maximum number that they can do the job for,” said Morris. “This one was unusual because we went back to the Board (of Governors) because of those surprises that we ran into. Had they had been more minor in nature, it would have been within the original project budget.”
Morris knew there would be surprises in store when Nabholz began construction on the underpass.
“You know anytime you dig in the Ozarks, you’re gonna have challenges,” said Morris.
Mark Wheeler, university architect and director of planning, design and construction, said delays involved soil issues, as well as labor and supply shortages, which halted construction on the north side of Grand Street from May to September 2022.
“Shorter delays included weather, underground water, uncovering unknown or damaged utilities and supply chain delays and uncovering the main AT&T connection that feeds the east side of Springfield,” Wheeler said.
Originally, the project was due to be completed in the fall semester of 2022.
Students ready for completion
Daniela Broughton, a student at Missouri State University, spoke briefly to the Springfield Daily Citizen until it was time for her to cross Grand Street through the temporary on-street crosswalk.
“Honestly, the main problem is just how much traffic comes through here,” she said. “Obviously this is one of the main streets. But I think it would help if there were less people driving through here.”
Ben Valdez, a student at Missouri State University said the temporary crosswalk was a little too narrow.
“I guess it would help generally if this was more open,” he said, before adding it was not a big deal as a temporary inconvenience.
“As long as it will be finished, that will be good.”