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stadium, revisited

Bids for the expansion of the Rutgers University football stadium -- now being scaled back -- came in as much as $18 million over budget, according to two officials briefed on the stadium's growing financial problems.

The higher costs represent more than 17 percent of the project's $102 million budget.

The good news?

Rutgers president Richard L. McCormick said it is not yet known how the school may reduce the project's scope, but he reiterated reducing seating capacity was an option of last resort. The project is scheduled to be completed by August 2009.

There were always multiple facets to the expansion. A couple of the things mentioned below were considered potential cuts a few months ago.

At issue is the more extensive construction centered in the south end-zone section of the stadium, where 13,000 new seats will be added. That phase of the plan also calls for construction of new elevators, concession stands and restrooms, a recruiting lounge and upgrading the stadium's sound system, scoreboard and video screen. The university also plans to add a new entrance off River Road to increase the stadium's visibility and ease traffic congestion on game days. it a whistleblower, or does someone have an axe to grind?

Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda said Phase I of the project – the construction of 1,000 luxury seats on the mezzanine level – is "on time and on budget" and will open as scheduled at the beginning of the season in September.

But one source with knowledge of the project disputed that contention.

"They’ve already used money from Phase II for Phase I,’’ the source said.

Mulcahy vowed that construction of 13,000 bench seats in the end zone will be completed without busting the budget. But he and Miranda would not say what might have to go to get that done. Construction crews have excavated the site already.

"This is a debacle; they already dug up half the place and now they find they don’t have the money for construction,’’ said the source with knowledge of the plans. He said the university went ahead with construction without firm plans or financing in place. "It’s out of control," he said.

If it IS the latter (and I'm not necessarily jumping to that conclusion), one person with an ax to grind might be BoG member George Zoffinger.

Rutgers board member George Zoffinger, the former president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, cast the lone vote against the stadium plan. In an interview Monday, Zoffinger said Gilbane's troubles with the Schools Development Authority were known to the board members at the time of the vote and played a role in his decision. He said he also was troubled that the project wasn't fully funded and that Gilbane had never built a stadium before.

"I voiced my opposition, but the board chose not to listen," Zoffinger said. "I accept that. I voted the way I thought was right.

"Now, since the majority of the board has voted to go forward with this, it's important that we all work together to make sure the project is successful," he said. "I'm not going to say, 'I told you so.' I'm not that kind of a person. All I'm going to say is we've got to make sure this thing works now."