Texas A&M University houses the only veterinary school in the state of Texas—a program that is ranked in the top five in the country. The school is expanding its footprint at the College Station campus with a new Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Education Complex and by renovating and expanding the existing Small Animal Hospital.

The 330,000-sq-ft complex will house state-of-the-art classrooms, teaching labs, surgery suites, meeting rooms and informal spaces for study, along with a café that has indoor and outdoor dining. Configured in a U-shape, the three buildings are connected by outdoor walkways and a courtyard. Combined with the expansion of the hospital for small animals, the new facilities will provide space for more than 500 students.

Early Dilemmas

The project was initially conceived in 2009 when A&M first went to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board with its need for additional space at the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). University Chancellor John Sharp gave approval in September 2010 to start planning the new complex.

“They were lucky enough to get a PUF (permanent university funds) from the state. It’s funding that is derived from leasing land and utilities,” notes Stantec project manager and principal Dan Caren, who has been with project since the start. “They got approximately $120 million for the overall project.”

But because of the nature of A&M’s funding, the owner had to go with a competitive sealed proposal (CSP) project delivery, despite a preference for CM at-risk, in order to bring the general contractor on earlier in the process. Other rules set by A&M’s facilities planning construction group meant that initial estimates had to come in 15% under the awarded funding. All of this made both the owner and architect even more aware of the tight budget.

“We also designed a whole series of alternates, which added to the complexity of documentation, but nevertheless, we aimed for 10% under the project budget and 5% over,” Caren says. “We ended up with 15 alternates, and those equaled roughly $14 million. What it did, was give us a sense that even in a very difficult bidding environment, we still had a very good chance of getting the project built.”

Caren adds that because it was a CSP, “We didn’t have a construction manager on board helping us out, reaching out to the subs. So we did open houses and presentations on the scope of the project and the schedule.”

In the end, the owner was able to purchase more of the alternates than expected. “The college is also dipping back into their own funds for some of the additional alternates, like the modular partitions, which they thought were a really critical element in providing long-term flexibility. We ended up getting almost the entire scope done,” Caren says.

But adding to the complexity for the design team was the fact that Stantec originally had a design partner, and eventually that team dropped out of the project. Stantec was asked to take charge as both architect-of-record and design architect, Caren explains.

When Stantec took over, the design team was still working under the same schedule. That’s because the opening of the new complex is being timed to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the CVM, adds Cristy Bickel, lead architect with Stantec, who oversaw the construction documents. “We lost several months in design time because we were starting from scratch,” she says. “We had nine months to go from schematic design through to construction documents, which for a building of this size—and complex as it is—was a real challenge. We had probably 15 staff full time on it by [the time of] construction documents.”

By working in Revit, the design team was able to share models daily among the entire team. They focused on efficiency in both the way they worked and communicated, Bickel says.

“We actually met with the dean and her administrative group several times before the RFQ even came out,” Caren adds. He recalls the dean’s comment that while the new facility was supposed to be a 50-year building, she couldn’t be sure how instructors would be teaching two years from now, much less 50 years.

“So that kind of became a mantra. We formed a lot of the planning for the project in that we really tried to provide a facility that was as flexible and adaptable to different teaching styles as we could,” Caren explains.

The team integrated flexibility into the classroom design, using such strategies as modular walls. “In the large lecture spaces, we also have retractable seating, so that could be used for 100- to 300-student lectures, then be retracted. Just the flexibility of all those systems helps make this whole facility flexible for the future,” Bickel says. “The whole building, including all the classrooms, is very rich in technology.”

Construction Challenges

Skanska first visited with CVM in late 2013 to discuss the project and ended up winning the job in 2014. The firm marketed the project to local subcontractors while encouraging participation from other trade markets in Texas. That led to a healthy mix of local and regional contractors.

“When we bid it out, we bid it as one whole project happening at the same time, so our subcontractors understood going into this that one [component] wasn’t complete before we got to the other one. That’s how they helped provide the manpower needed,” adds Randy Pitre, senior superintendent for Skanska.

Teams broke ground on July 20, 2014, and work is now approximately 55% complete across the project.

“The main project consists of three multistory buildings and includes a critical renovation piece for the live operating Small Animal Hospital renovation,” explains Wayne Davis, Skanska’s project executive. “The schedule for the main buildings runs concurrent” and should be complete in June 2016. “The Small Animal Hospital will turn over in Q3 of 2015,” he adds. The grand opening is scheduled for August 2016.

The buildings themselves consist of a structural concrete frame with masonry, curtain wall and metal panel veneers. Work also includes new utilities, concrete paving, sidewalks and landscaping, plus parking for nearly 500 vehicles.

“Two of the buildings are neck and neck, and right now we’re looking at about two months early occupancy for those. The third one [Veni] will finish slightly behind the others. It’s the one with higher-end finishes and has the easiest move-in schedule,” Pitre says. “The other two buildings are more complex and require a longer move-in time line with various owner equipment.”

The three buildings that form the complex, called Veni, Vidi and Vici—Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered”—are end-user specific. Careful consideration has been given to creating a medical-grade facility, housing and care areas for animals as well as a public interface. The buildings also include many medical-grade components—nitrogen/oxygen usage as well as a small animal surgical suite.

The Vidi building is administrative, with 114,000 sq ft across three floors; the Veni building, at 109,000 sq ft, will contain the dean’s offices; and the Vici will house the main labs and small animal surgery. It is the most complex of the three, spanning 104,000 sq ft across three floors.

“The Vici building, on the first floor, definitely has some very specific user requirements for what they’re trying to achieve with their students,” says Andrew Yahner, Skanska’s assistant project manager. It includes a 2,000-sq-ft, controlled environment anatomy lab, primarily used by the faculty and students for education, care and research of large animals.

The lab itself has 18-ft ceilings and an insulated slab. It also has a unique cooler-chiller element for storing animal cadavers. The contractor was also tasked with installing an internal “monorail system” that circulates from the freezers and refrigerators to the lab. It requires a heavy weight capacity (an average cow weighs 1,000 lb). Skanska had 13 different trades building out this 2,000-sq-ft space alone.

“Our preconstruction planning efforts focused on many economic factors, including the employment of the most qualified subcontractors in the industry that were a good fit for the project based upon experience, financial strength and, of course, bid price,” Davis says.

Another major challenge to the construction schedule was the amount of rain the area received in April and May. Skanska only had 10 working days in April and just four days in May, leaving the team with almost full two months of potential work days lost.

“What we did was a reanalysis of the schedule to see what part of the schedule the rain was affecting and then resequencing it to focus on the Veni building pump room, which feeds the other two buildings and allows them to get conditioned air,” Yahner says. “Getting conditioned air is what triggers the install of our finishes. Speeding up the conditioned air allowed for a quicker interior install.”

By resequencing the work, the project team was able to make up the delays and get the project back on schedule and on budget.

“Another challenge was keeping the assets of the existing facility,” Yahner adds. “We have done some perimeter road work to allow for the new footprint of the three large buildings. We are redoing the parking lot and building access roads to feed the existing large animal hospital.”

The modular walls utilized in many of the classrooms on campus posed another challenge. In the Vici building, the owner specified using a DIRTT modular wall system. The system is complex to install and fairly new to the construction industry, according to Skanska. But the installation itself goes faster than basic drywall, with faster connections for technology.

Skanska has also done 3D modeling on the entire facility for future maintenance work, giving the end user the ability to measure anything in it, from a door to a desktop computer.

As of September, Skanska had completed roughly 340,000 man-hours of work and anticipates reaching a total of 750,000 upon completion. The team has had only one lost-time incident so far and no significant injuries. Skanska utilizes the injury-free environment (IFE) brand of safety. An incident prevention plan is developed specifically for each project, based on the corporate IFE guidelines and best practices developed on similar projects.

The construction team was further challenged by the fact that the university’s Kyle Field stadium project was going on simultaneously for a time. But neither team had any crew shortages.

“We were lucky and secured some of the same contractors who were on the Kyle Field job,” Pitre says. “They were able to staff up for us and now they’re bringing additional teams on just to help us get a little further ahead. But we haven’t had anything that’s slowed us down.”

While Texas A&M is not seeking LEED certification for the school, the complex is being designed to LEED-Silver standards. A rain-tank harvester was installed that ties into the school’s irrigation system and will provide approximately 56,000 gallons of water per year.

“Some of the trees that were removed are being reclaimed, and we’re using them as benches,” adds Pitre.

Skanska says the project is on budget and will be ready in time for CVM’s celebration. A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will mark its 100th anniversary next year, having grown from a small school in 1916 to its present role as a major veterinary educational, medical and research center.