Beginning this fall, future engineers and construction professionals attending Arizona State University are getting an upgrade from decades-old student housing with the completion of a $120-million residence hall at the school’s Tempe campus. American Campus Communities (ACC) and ASU are developing the project via a public-private partnership.

The facility, which doubles as a sustainable teaching tool, challenged designers and contractors with its tight site and fast-track construction.

The 457,000-sq-ft, six-floor residential building will house freshmen engineering students for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, including many studying construction, and civil, mechanical and structural engineering. It will also have an underground stormwater retention system and exposed MEP systems to inform students of engineering processes.

The 1,500-student housing complex is composed of post-tensioned concrete slabs with concrete columns and concrete shear walls, according to the design team, led by architectural firm SCB of Chicago. Contractors used steel framing to erect several roof sections, pedestrian bridges, stairs and enclosures, canopies and trellises.

Designers maintained a consistent focus on gaining LEED points for the project, which is targeting Gold status, says architect Chadd Harrison with SCB. Sustainable features include a shading system featuring louvers, limiting thermal coupling through foam insulation, LED lighting and a groundwater recharge storm-runoff drainage system.

Time Matters

Demolition of the site’s existing residence hall began in mid-2015. The time line for completing the new complex was less than 24 months, despite design plans still in the early stages.

“It became a real project pretty fast,” Harrison says. “The schedule was condensed, and we were really pushed on our end to deliver documents on this large and complex building in a short period of time. When construction started, we were still working out the details.”

Architects moved the project’s design from conceptual plans through permitting in roughly six months, adds Harrison, whose firm does many ACC projects.

To keep the aggressively scheduled project on track, Harrison says the entire team engaged a hard deadline approach, with major assistance from general contractor Okland Construction.

“We had many meetings with the owners and the general contractor where decisions had to be made before we left the meeting,” Harrison says. “Having the contractor on board from the beginning was a must. They helped immensely and provided accurate costs quickly.”

The exterior cladding, however, challenged the schedule since many of its elements had to be designed and fabricated. That forced Okland to take a non-traditional approach during construction.

“Normally you close up the outside and go on the inside. We had to find a way to build the inside first,” says Jesse Lee, project manager with Okland.

Connecting points for the cladding system’s hat channels were installed and matched up perfectly when the exterior wall sections arrived, says Buddy Haws, Okland superintendent.

“There’s been no rework,” Haws says.

Final design incorporated a variety of materials on the facade, Harrison says, including insulated metal panels and an exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS). The relatively budget-minded cladding options were used to offset the higher costs for the louver system.

Harrison credits subcontractor Kovach Building Enclosures for its design and fabrication of the building’s airfoil-inspired louver system. Installation of the louvers on the specially designed truss support system continues to proceed.

“We had a good contractor and that was key,” Harrison says.

Site Matters

While tight construction sites are common, the Okland team says when combined with certain design elements and having to operate on a functioning university, the site posed challenges for space and access. ASU donated the use of a vacant site about two miles from construction for storage; access roads were closed to students and faculty during the day; and construction access was limited to one 80-ft entrance along a one-way road.

“If you were to ask the public how much construction we were doing, they would have no idea,” says Jake Williams, field director for Okland.

Contractors staged almost no materials on site. Also, crews recycled materials for LEED credits at offsite staging areas, which improved sorting capability, Haws says.

Design elements such as pedestrian bridges and the stormwater retention basin further cramped the site.

The residence hall will feature a single entrance in the center courtyard for residents. To speed up movement from structure to structure, residents will use a series of pedestrian bridges. The steel-framed bridge elements utilize floor-level beams and diagonal bracing, which enables the bridges to clear the span while maintaining a shallow profile.

Because one set of bridges ran along the single access area for moving equipment, crews excavated several feet of soil from underneath the bridges to allow movement after steel was erected.

Elsewhere, between the two structures on the east of the site, there is an approximately 49-ft-long storm-retention chamber. Because of access issues, and contrary to standard contracting sequencing, it was among the first items to be built, Lee says.

“You have to put it in first because there was no way to put it in last. Having that in there was a huge feat in itself,” says Lee.

According to the design team, the underground stormwater retention system consists of a series of storm drain pipes that collect runoff from the roof drains and surface inlets and direct it into an array of arched plastic chambers below the courtyard. The chambers are wrapped in filter fabric and are situated on a rock bed approximately 8 ft deep. The combination of the arched chamber volume and the void space in the rock bed provides retention volume.

Within 12 to 24 hours of rainfall, the stormwater drains through the rock bed and filters into the permeable layer of native sand and gravel soils approximately 10 ft deep.

University Life

Many campus features, including the stormwater retention system, will also be used as teaching tools, an answer to ASU’s desire of incorporating elements into the facility that could educate students about engineering. Other teaching elements, including keeping certain MEP systems visible by way of cutouts or glass walls, are an extension of concepts the school introduced on its College Avenue Commons project, completed less than two years ago about 200 yards from the new residence hall. Both projects incorporate exposed, color-coded MEP piping where feasible.

Designers took those concepts a step further on the residence hall. The mechanical room on the facility’s north side has a window to allow passersby to view the works. The depressed courtyard also features two surface runoff channels directly from roof drain outlets—runnels—that serve to demonstrate stormwater collection to residents.

Beyond the facility’s physical characteristics, several hundred students from the Del E. Webb School of Construction have studied aspects of the building’s construction process.

“Okland Construction was fantastic to work with. Their onsite project management team gave great tours with lots of information on construction methods and challenges,” says Wylie Bearup, interim program chair for the Del E. Webb School of Construction.

Bill Cornelius, vice president, American Campus Communities, says the construction team has met the challenge and the facility will be a standard bearer for the developer.

“There is a sense of presence,” he says.