The construction of three research buildings at NUIG ran €15.7 million over budget and ended up being completed 45 months late.
A review of construction projects at higher education institutes carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General identified three projects at NUIG that had a total cost overrun of €22.2 million.
Out of ten projects at six HEIs reviewed in this report the construction of a bundle of science, arts and clinical research buildings at NUIG, completed in 2015 at a final cost of €60 million, experienced the longest delay at almost four years overrun.
The Engineering building at NUI Galway finished €5.4 million over budget and one month late, while the sports complex cost €2.1 million more than its budget and was completed four months behind schedule.
The largest cost overrun on a construction project identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General was on the Trinity College Biomedical Sciences Institute.
Completed in June 2011 for €91.6 million, the TBSI ran €16.6 million over its initial budget and was completed six months late.
In total the ten projects examined at NUIG, UL, Trinity College, Athlone IT, DCU, and UCD for this review racked up cost overruns of €67.2 million.
The report said that tender evaluation was the most common weakness for at the pre-contract phase of projects.
Six of the ten evaluated used cost as their sole criterion for awarding the contract, with combined cost of €20 million.
Three of those later had to be re-tendered because the chosen contractor went under.
Once the project got underway, the report said that the biggest issue that kept cropping up was changes to the scope of the project.
It said that in several cases there were “a significant number of change orders,” made after a project began.
“Even though these should only be issued for essential requirements that were unforeseeable prior to tender.”
In other cases “ambiguous and incomplete documents” led to disputes between the HEI and the contractor which was hired.
Nine of the ten projects ended up going to a dispute resolution process which can involve “significant legal and professional fees” being incurred.
In one instance a contractual dispute ended up costing an unidentified HEI €3.3 million in legal and professional fees.
While individual institutes identified learning outcomes from theses issues that they could bring to future projects, the Comptroller’s evaluation doubts whether this knowledge is shared across the sector.
It suggests that overall, there may be a lack of capacity within the higher education sector to manage large scale capital projects.
The report recommends that more weight should be given when evaluating a tender to aspects other than cost.
It caution institutes to beware of “unrealistically low pricing” and the risk of conflict with contractor.
Once work has begun it says that “robust project management” is needed to measure progress and take timely corrective action on any issues, and to limit deviations from the scope of the project.