The Hudson River waterfront in Jersey City, N.J., has undergone a renaissance—especially in the last decade with the completion of such major structures as the Goldman Sachs tower at 30 Hudson Street. Dubbed "Wall Street West" due to the number of financial institutions that line the river across from lower Manhattan, the area was expected to help lead the way for major redevelopment in the rest of the city. While this has not happened to the degree expected, locals say there are signs that development might be starting to spread.

At Saint Peter's University, located about 2 miles uphill from the river, construction is under way on a six-story, 87,800-sq-ft student center with majestic top-floor views of the Hudson to the east and Newark Bay to the west. The hope is that the center—like the 140-year-old university itself, which until last August was a college—will serve as a catalyst for further development beyond the school's borders.

As visitors move away from the city's modern waterfront, "Jersey City starts looking a little different," with some structures built as early as the 1930s, says Mike Fazio, the university's vice president of advancement and external affairs. The city remains an economically challenged area even though it is undergoing tremendous change—and the school's $35-million project will help accelerate that change, he adds.

"What this facility is going to do is bring that renaissance up the hill," Fazio says.

It will also bring, under one roof, numerous school activities that are currently housed in numerous buildings around the school's 25-acre campus. Developed in part with input from students and an eye toward Wall Street West, the center is the university's first major construction project since 1974, Fazio says.

Working with a crew of about 130, general contractor Torcon Inc., Red Bank, N.J., broke ground in June 2011 on the southeast side of campus. The building will include offices, a campus store, two floors of dining halls, a radio station, a fitness room, performance space, several student-gathering places and a large event space.

The building's features include four machine-roomless elevators as well as eight rooftop heat recovery units. The HVAC systems—one for each of the first five floors and three for the sixth floor—had to be fit into a tight roof space, says Chris Morris, principal in charge of MEP at Birdsall Services Group, Sea Girt, N.J., which is also the project's civil engineer and landscape architect.

The systems, each with variable air volume boxes, are clustered "in fairly close proximity on one section of the roof," Morris says. The sixth floor has three systems to match the varied uses of that space, he says. The floor's conference room, for example, is not likely to be used as frequently as other rooms; thus, its demands for heating and cooling when filled with people will be different than that of the cafeterias, he adds.

"One of the primary ways that we were able to fit everything into the tight space that we had was because we used building information modeling" technology, Morris says. "That helped us closely coordinate the placement of the HVAC ductwork within the tight spaces available on the roof."

About 35% to 40% of the entire building's exterior consists of glazing, "so there are a lot of facade support details throughout the structure," says Mike Tecci, project manager at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., Waltham, Mass., the project's structural engineer.

The building's largest section of glass, measuring 23 ft 3 in. high by 54 ft 4 in. wide, is on the east-facing curtain wall of the two-story top floor. "The biggest difficulty was the double-height space and the glass curtain wall," Tecci says. "It was difficult for us to get that wind load back into the structure."

The team used 16-in. by 16-in. square tubes in the glass curtain wall's corners "to take the wind load and transfer it back to the steel beams above and below," he says.

A 12-ft balcony on the north side of the second floor, which contains the first of a two-floor cafeteria space, also required some ingenuity. The balcony has a sloped topping slab for drainage, requiring that the balcony's frame be 1 ½ in. lower than the adjacent second-floor framing. "We had to design the framing for that step-down," Tecci says.

The south side entrance also includes a canopy that cantilevers 10 ft and hangs 16 in. below the second floor. The team had to offset the moment connection to accommodate that 16-in. differential, Tecci says.

To help dissipate thermal bridges on the roof as well as the balcony and canopies, the team installed thermal blocks.

Tecci says the team worked well together even when corrosive soil conditions were discovered before laying the foundation. The team initially considered using epoxy-coated rebar, but cost concerns led it to abandon that plan in favor of a lower-cost, three-step process that wound up working well, he says. The process entailed placing the concrete cover 4 in., instead of the usual 3 in., from the rebar "so the corrosives would have farther to travel to hit rebar," Tecci says. Also, three gallons of corrosion-inhibiting admixture were added to every cu yd of concrete, and a layer of gravel was placed around the concrete foundation to wick away corrosive groundwater.

The project also included the demolition last year of four freestanding homes near the entrance of the student center that the school has long used as office space. In their place and in the surrounding area will be a 10- to 15-car parking lot and a large "grassy area with trees, and a place for folks to play Frisbee and relax," Fazio says. "Given our urban environment, we don't have a lot of that, so it comes at a premium."

Designed by Shepley Bulfinch, Boston, the center will seek LEED-Silver certification. Among its environmentally friendly features, the building includes recycled materials for many components, including its interior hardware metal, says Alicia Monks, associate at Shepley Bulfinch. The aluminum on the exterior curtain wall is made from 50% recycled metal, and 91.4% of the project's construction waste is being recycled, she adds.

The student center is the only construction project in the university's seven-year, $62-million capital campaign, which will be funded through philanthropy, Fazio says.

The university is also about to complete a separate $4-million alternative energy project on the west side of campus that includes a 320-kilowatt cogeneration system and a 200-kW rooftop solar array.

The school also has plans to develop a nearby parking lot that it owns near campus into, possibly, a retail and/or residential space. "The city has already designated that area for redevelopment, and we plan on taking a lead role in that," Fazio says. He adds that the school is seeking a developer but is proceeding cautiously. "We've started to talk with a handful of folks. We're open to ideas, that's for sure," he adds.

For now, however, the student center, which is set for completion in January 2013, has most of Fazio's attention.

The school hopes to grow its student body to about 3,500 from the current 3,100. To do that and become more attractive to students and parents, it needed a grand meeting place to create a presence that distinguishes Saint Peter's from such nearby competitors as Fairleigh Dickenson and Seton Hall universities in New Jersey and Fordham University in New York, Fazio says.

"The one thing [the school] was missing was a central facility where our students could come together and dine, recreate, study, work out. We have all those amenities on campus now, but they're scattered in [about] five different places."

The new center will change that and be Saint Peter's signature facility, Fazio says. "When you think of Seton Hall, it has that building in its logo and that's what it's known for. Boston College is known for its library, and Notre Dame has the Golden Dome," he says. "This student center is going to be what folks equate Saint Peter's University with. This is a game changer for us."