Steven Pecic – Wayne State University
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Zachary Brann
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Uprooting a brick house that is a campus landmark was not in his plans when Steven Pecic arrived at Detroit’s Wayne State University in 2006. Then again, neither was overseeing the entire facility’s operational portfolio and maintenance of the campus, or participating in the construction of the $65 million project that takes the place of the iconic house.
“I never thought I’d be here so many years later,” he says. “I came to (WSU) in 2006 as an aspiring architect to get experience in a broad range of facility and customer and contractor engagement.”
What Pecic got was a career caring for the older buildings and stewarding a new era for the school, first established in 1868 as the Detroit Medical College.
“We run a virtual city and every variety of building one could imagine,” Pecic says of the 215 acres and 120 buildings on the Detroit campus. The school also has satellite campuses in Warren, Livonia, and Clinton Township.
This old house
The Mackenzie House has three stories, a brick turret, and spacious front porch. Built in 1895, it was the home of Wayne State founder Dr. David Mackenzie, and a fixture on Cass Avenue.
In April, it was beamed up.
“Our joke was ‘you only get to do this once every 120 years,’” Pecic says about contractors hoisting the house onto steel beams before trucking it across a campus parking lot to a new foundation a block away. Fascinated by the process, Pecic says he was relieved they didn’t need to use city streets for the move.
As the Mackenzie House settles onto its new foundation near other community housing, the $65 million Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex built in its stead, advances. Pecic says the facility will support a new proscenium theatre, a performance studio, costume and set shops and storage space for the WSU College of Fine, Performing & Communication Arts. The Hilberry Theatre, standing next to the Mackenzie house site, will also be renovated and become the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center. The Gateway complex portal welcoming visitors also better distinguishes the entry to campus from its surroundings.
“We are so blended with the community that visitors often cannot distinguish where the campus fabric begins,” Pecic says.
The new wave of construction encompasses more than the Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex. The school will also expand its science, technology, engineering, and math, facilities with the STEM Innovation Learning Center. The project, partially state-funded, will cost $49.5 million and renovates a 1970s science and engineering library into a state-of-the-art classroom building. In 2021, a new $25 million, 3,000-seat basketball arena is scheduled to open; it will be home to a Gatorade League professional team in partnership with the Detroit Pistons.
The biggest new project, a public-private partnership known as P3, is in collaboration with Rhode Island-based Corvias for current and future student housing. The 40-year, $307 million deal makes Corvias the property manager for the existing 2,950 beds and the builder of future student housing; and allows the university to shed $102 million in housing deferred maintenance, Pecic says.
The P3 deal completes the funding needed for the new $120 million, 841-bed, Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments, now nearing completion. The first phase, with 407 beds, opened last fall. The final towers, with 434 beds, are scheduled to open for the 2019 fall semester. P3s are the up-and-coming method of financing, Pecic says, especially at public colleges lacking extensive endowment funds.
Wayne State evolved much the way other campuses have, Pecic says, with periods of expansion and new construction coming roughly in 25-year cycles beginning after the end of World War II.
“We have a lot of buildings from the 1950s and 60s that need capital overhaul to support modern learning technologies,” Pecic says, “and even ones from the ‘90s and 2000s where systems are near the end of their life cycles.”
Retrofits and renovations can sometimes be more costly than new construction. At 70-year-old State Hall, Pecic says upgrading two legacy elevators with modern controls will cost $280,000. A new elevator tower will be added to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards at a total project cost of $3 million.
To heat the campus, WSU stepped away from municipally provided steam heat in 2008 and built a network of more than 80 smaller boilers powered by natural gas, a move Pecic says reduced energy expenses even as the university expanded its infrastructure.
With the reduced energy costs and housing debt help, Pecic says that university consultants estimate WSU has up to a $2 billion backlog in deferred maintenance work. A new campus master plan is coming, though, and it will provide guidance on how to better utilize university-owned space now and in the future. The plan is expected to recommend taking some buildings offline, Pecic says, reducing part of that backlog burden.
New development will go in one direction as the campus is hemmed in by its urban setting.
“In our environment, we have to build up,” he says.
Pecic praises his resourceful staff of 336 people as he considers the future.
“We are always balancing what projects to prioritize to correctly maintain the facilities, and it always feels like there is more work that could be done, but the staff we have is remarkable, top notch,” Pecic says. “We take the farmer mentality of how to be creative, how do we maximize?”
A father of four whose wife bought him flying lessons for Christmas, Pecic says he is happy he has spent his career on the WSU campus.
“Every day is different and I get to interact with every kind of professional that can exist,” he says.
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