URI Bay Campus needs new facilities for ocean research

NARRAGANSETT – The view from the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay campus quad is beautiful and tranquil.

The October sun glistens over the water of West Passage, illuminating the orange leaves of Jamestown and the Pell Bridge behind. Even on a mid-semester Wednesday afternoon, there are plenty of empty benches, just a few students lying on the grass reading, and it’s quiet enough to hear construction workers building a new pier in the distance.

Maybe it’s too quiet.

Nestled at the end of South Ferry Road between an Environmental Protection Agency facility and the beach enclave of Bonnet Shores, the Bay Campus might seem like a forgotten corner of the state university system.

There are no dorms, no fraternity houses, and graduate students studying there sometimes forget to leave the lab.

But URI and state leaders see the Bay Campus as a key part of their plan to grow the “blue economy” of state water-related businesses.

So if voters approve a referendum on the $100 million bond in the November election, the Bay Campus will get a little louder and busier.

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The Bay Campus water reservoirs would be rebuilt if voters approved a $100 million bond.

issue 1

The URI Bay Campus Referendum – Question 1 – is one of three statewide ballot questions in this year’s election that, combined, seek permission to borrow $400 million.

Question 2 asks for another $250 million payment into the state fund that pays for building schools.

And Question 3 would borrow $50 million for a host of environmental and recreational projects ranging from brownfield rehabilitation to improvements to the Roger Williams Park Zoo. He is known as the “Green Bond”.

A new jetty is being built at URI's Narragansett Bay campus that will house the National Science Foundation's Narragansett Dawn research vessel.  Voters will be asked to approve $100 million for new buildings and renovations on the Bay Campus.

What would $100 million build for the URI?

Not as much as a year or two ago.

Rising construction costs forced URI to remove one of its desired new buildings – a marine geology lab – from the list of bond-funded projects.

Now the $100 million would pay for three new buildings and a security gate at the campus entrance.

The biggest project on the list is the replacement of the 1968 Horn Laboratory with a new 100,000 square foot “Ocean Frontiers Building”.

Walking through the lab, there is no sign that much has been improved since 1968. There is no air conditioning in the research spaces and the elevator is out of service.

But important work is in progress. In one room, water splashes into a dark blue recycling bin, the trash can-sized container perched on an agitator. Researchers are testing PFAS, known as the “forever chemicals,” in water.

Paula Bontempi, dean of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, said the state of the lab makes it difficult to attract talent.

“The vintage rusty cabinets and windows that don’t even close make it really depressing,” she said. “I try to recruit faculty with MIT and their facilities and that’s what I have to offer.”

The other university buildings that the $100 million bond would pay for would create a new ocean engineering complex.

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Paula Bontempi, dean of URI's Graduate School of Oceanography, said the state of the lab makes it difficult to attract talent.

They replace two corrugated iron structures. One holds a wave tank, but a leaky roof means the water level changes when it rains.

In addition to keeping the rain out, the new building will have enough space to double the size of the wave tank to 200 feet long.

The tank can test how different vessels and structures withstand waves of different shapes and sizes, which Bontempi says is of growing interest to offshore wind companies testing equipment and the insurance industry looking to determine how much. point a location could be vulnerable when the sea level rise.

Of course, this isn’t the first time in recent history that the URI has asked voters to approve borrowing for new buildings, or even borrowing for new buildings on the Bay Campus.

Since 2014, voters have approved a bond for URI every two years totaling $283 million. They were:

2014: $125 million for a new College of Engineering building

2016: $45 million for additional construction at the College of Engineering

2018: $45 million (of a $70 million obligation) for the construction of the Bay Campus

2021: $57 million to build a new fine arts center

So where did the last $45 million go?

It is being used to pay for “Phase 1” of the Bay Campus redesign, which includes the new pier being built to accommodate the National Science Foundation’s Narragansett Dawn research vessel. The new ship, when it arrives, will be too big for the old dock.

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URI and state leaders view the Bay Campus as a key part of their plan for state growth

URI also plans to build a new ocean robotics lab next to the decrepit Horn lab, where researchers can test deep-sea submersibles, underwater drones, robots, and the software to operate them.

Flyers promoting Question 1 are scattered around the lecture halls and offices of the Ocean Science Exploration Center, the central building of the Bay Campus that opened in the 1990s.

These materials are from a 501(c)4 called Rhode Islanders for Higher Education set up to promote the referendum. The group’s treasurer is Nancy Gillespie, who works in URI’s marketing and communications department. He has not yet reported any expenses with the Board of Elections.

“We have world-class research going on. We attract students from all over the world. But we’ve let the campus deteriorate over the past 60 years,” said URI President Marc Parlange, explaining why the voters should put up $100 million. in the bay campus. “These buildings are leaking. We’re trying to do world-class research with companies from Denmark, the UK and Canada. We have very strong international collaborations in Australia and Africa. It’s very difficult when you’re working in buildings that don’t provide a safe environment to get the job done.

He said URI receives $55 million a year in federal research dollars, and for every $1 of state investment, we recoup $6.25.

Will this change the look and feel of the campus, which is almost bucolic if you ignore the large concrete rectangle housing the nuclear reactor used for research?

“We’re going to take two of our most atrocious buildings and replace them with modern ones. There will be more people on the sidewalks. You’ll see more collaboration with the state of Rhode Island, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said.

issue 2

In 2018, voters approved a $250 million school building bond with the idea that another $250 million would be requested later.

The $250 million of the latest bond has all been allocated, but not all spent, according to Department of Education spokesman Victor Morente.

Forty-three school districts and charter schools received bail money.

Providence got the most, $64.5 million, Pawtucket $46.1 million and Warwick $22 million. Of the charters, Achievement First got the most with $4.7 million.

Morente said the state won’t have a breakdown of the amount invested in each school project until all the money has been spent.

Regardless of Question 2, there are $1.3 billion in school loans for approval on local ballots, including funds for new high schools in Warwick, Pawtucket and Middletown; a new middle school in East Providence and new elementary schools in North Providence, Westerly and Middletown.

issue 3

As always, the “green bond” would finance a long list of different projects. Especially this time:

• $21 million for the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank; $16 million to communities to restore or protect vulnerable coastal areas and floodplains; $5 million for small business energy loans.

• $12 million to Roger Williams Park Zoo to build a carbon neutral education center and event pavilion. “This project will help the zoo meet the technological demands of modern classrooms, increase student capacity, expand its education programs for RI schools, and establish a large hall with seating capacity for lectures. , assemblies and artistic performances,” according to a press release. press release from the Department of Environmental Management.

• $5 million for communities to purchase open space

• $3 million for watershed restoration of Narragansett Bay

• $3 million for forest restoration

• $4 million to clean up toxic industrial sites or “industrial wastelands”.

• $2 million in matching grants to improve local parks

“The funding provided by voter-approved green bonds is a catalyst that gives DEM the ability to do much of what we do to manage, protect and restore Rhode Island’s natural resources,” said the director of DEM, Terry Gray, in the press release.

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