Georgia Diacumakos-Kyrifides – Rutgers University
As the campuses of Rutgers University grow and expand throughout New Jersey, school officials hope the locals take notice.
It’s certainly hard to miss the new RWJ Barnabas Health Athletic Performance Center, a $108 million complex located at the heart of the school’s Piscataway, New Jersey campus. Encompassing 125,000 square feet, the four-story facility combines athletic practice areas and locker rooms for basketball, wrestling and gymnastics with a sports medicine program for student athletes and the general public that also improves programs for teaching athletic trainers and physical therapists.
The exterior is concrete and glass, giving the complex an imposing presence. Inside, vivid red and black figure heavily, as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights’ colors permeate the weight and locker rooms, courts and tracks.
Opened in August 2019, the RWJBarnabas facility is far from the first, last or only project aimed at keeping New Jersey students at home for college.
“We’re trying to entice the younger generations to apply to Rutgers and stay in New Jersey so the state can benefit,” says Georgia Diacumakos-Kyrifides, the school’s capital projects senior director. “To do that, we need to provide state-of-the-art facilities which deliver great education.”
Big plans – big buildings
For 15 years, Diacumakos-Kyrifides has been in charge of the construction of projects ranging from $5 million to $300 million. The school has built over $2.2 billion in new facilities across the Rutgers system, totaling more than 2.5 million square feet. Some funding has come through a $750 million bond package approved by the state’s voters in 2012. Alumni have also participated in the effort to attract talented students, notably at the $65 million Gary and Barbara Rodkin Academic Success Building and 100,000-square-foot Richard Weeks Hall of Engineering.
At the Camden campus, home to the university’s law and nursing schools, the recently opened 107,000-square-foot, $62.5 million Nursing and Science Building includes state-of-the-art simulation labs, classroom space and student work areas. Diacumakos-Kyrifides expects the building will create a stronger “eds and meds” link to area health care facilities including the Cooper University Health Care center.
These diverse projects touch nearly every area of academics and athletics and Diacumakos-Kyrifides cites redevelopment at the Livingston campus in Piscataway as memorable. The buildout included a 1,500-bed student housing complex, a new dining hall, a new home for the business school and upgrades to the utility infrastructure including a new substation, water and sewer mains, and the addition of geothermal and solar power sources.
The four-year timeframe for building was a tight one, she recalls, and budgets were fixed. Plans for the business school called for white interiors that would make cleaning more difficult, and a change order that turned office spaces into classrooms in the midst of an already aggressive completion schedule.
The Livingston campus redevelopment has been a hit, Diacumakos-Kyrifides says.
“Students request the housing as a result of many of the amenities offered throughout the complex,” she says. “We have a diner, a deli, a sushi restaurant, a computer store, Starbucks, a yogurt shop and a movie theatre.”
Clear and focused
“If you do the job right and do the right thing, you will be OK with Georgia,” says Paul Natoli, the CEO and principal of Joseph A. Natoli Construction.
His company has been building at Rutgers for 30 years, including the Livingston dining hall renovations and the Rodkin Academic Success Building.
“I would not consider it a school,” Natoli says. “Working at Rutgers is more complex than that. They have an entire facilities and construction department. It’s a sophisticated department and a sophisticated staff.”
It is also a department with clear leadership—Natoli says Diacumakos-Kyrifides is hands-on and knowledgeable, but respects the chain of command for projects.
“They know what they want and have standards you have to follow that go above and beyond code,” he adds.
At the helm
More broadly, Diacumakos-Kyrifides says her role requires balancing increased costs—such as those caused by tariffs on materials including steel or occasional designs that emphasize complex aesthetics and drive up costs—with the school’s ambitious growth plans.
“When I see a researcher or professor so passionate about what they do, I want to help them,” she says.
Supervising construction does not begin with the initial concept, she says. Once the concept is complete, Diacumakos-Kyrifides enters the picture by drafting a preliminary budget to be submitted to the Rutgers Capital Planning Advisory Committee.
Once final building plans are approved by the university board of governors, Diacumakos-Kyrifides is there to manage the design and construction of the project. This involves making sure it is meeting deadlines, within budget, and meeting contractual and university standards, she says. She also negotiates any needed change orders.
“I negotiate hard. I consider Rutgers money as my own,” Diacumakos-Kyrifides says. “We try to build affordable buildings, for the budgets we have, that are still state-of-the-art.”
Sourcing the work
There is certainly no shortage of contractors ready to take on projects at Rutgers; Natoli Construction is one of 150 companies on a prequalified list that Diacumakos-Kyrifides can select from. Potential bidders are reviewed by committees involved with any new construction, and the school looks to approach 10 companies with four alternates hoping to receive at least five bids.
If bids come in over estimates, Diacumakos-Kyrifides says it is back to the drawing board to review design and construction details and determine how to reduce costs.
She says construction at Rutgers can be more expensive than comparable jobs because of design standards implemented to ensure a 100-year life span for a building. Long-term goals are part of her preplanning to contain costs and maintain schedules, and she is adding a quality control and assurance department and a commissioning group for better oversight during construction.
Once completed, buildings remain under warranty for a year; and there is a walk-through after 11 months to address any warranty issues. Diacumakos-Kyrifides says she encourages those using the buildings to tell her what problems they are finding—those issues can then be addressed in current and future building designs.
The results mean more than bricks, glass or carpets to Diacumakos-Kyrifides. They mean the best students and athletes in the state don’t have to leave to get the best education.
“I love my job because I feel that by constructing a building for someone researching a cancer cure, I have contributed to this research by providing the facility they need to perform this very important work. I am assisting them in finding a cure,” she says.
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