Hands-On Approach Pays Off for Stanford University
Construction is booming at Stanford University, with more than $3 billion of projects underway and in design as the school plans for a bright and busy future.
“In order to remain a world-class university, we must add new academic space that facilitates interdisciplinary teaching and research,” says Robert C. Reidy, vice president of land, buildings and real estate (LBRE), the department in charge of construction at the school. “As existing fields of study expand and new fields emerge, the space requirements to meet our academic needs also expand.”
Stanford has more than 300 active projects ranging in size from $100,000 to $1.2 billion. They include five projects worth more than $200 million, 14 over $10 million and 285 under $10 million—all of which represent about 4 million sq ft of new construction.
The school’s largest and most exciting projects include the 1.5-million-sq-ft Stanford Redwood City campus; the 235,000-sq-ft Neuro/ChEM-H Research Complex; the 134,500-sq-ft Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Biology Research Building; and Denning House, an 18,300 sq-ft development.
To keep these projects running smoothly, the LBRE department keeps an open line of communication and a personal approach with its various project team members, says Reidy, adding that his department is currently working with more than 20 general contractors, dozens of subcontractors and roughly 20 architecture and design firms.
Kevin Fitzgerald, project manager with ACCO Engineered Systems, says Stanford University is a great owner with regard to communication.
“If an issue comes up, they have a hands-on approach that really separates them from other owners,” says Fitzgerald, whose company is working on the Bass biology facility and ChEM-H projects.
Fitzgerald says Stanford officials make every effort to ensure that their project management and facilities teams are available to work through issues. “They understand the overall project approach and spend time discussing it with the contractors during the preconstruction and construction process,” he says. “This may be perceived as a simple task performed by all owners; however, this is not the case.”
The $107-million Bass Biology Research Building is a new laboratory research facility designed to support neurobiology and cell biology research as well as the study of ecology and evolution. The Neuro/ChEM-H project will house more than 40 laboratories.
Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. is working on those two projects, and Tim Regan, the firm’s president and CEO, calls the school a “very engaged and collaborative” client.
“Stanford is very in tune with the subcontractor market and takes an active role in the selection process,” he says. “Subcontractors that work at Stanford know this and put more attention and focus to their projects, which results in better service, pricing and schedule reliability.”
As an example of the university’s hands-on approach, Regan points to the Neuro/ChEM-H project. On this job, a stone supplier in France went into bankruptcy and the project was unable to secure the final quantity of stone for the building, so Stanford flew members of the project team to France to resolve the issue, he says.
“The stone supplier was not capable of working out a solution. However, Stanford found another supplier during the same trip and set up a contact for us to secure the remainder of the stone for the project,” he says. “Most owners would not get involved in such a matter and leave it to the general contractor to solve. Stanford is more than a client. They are an active partner.”
Andy Schatzman, vice president of Devcon Construction Inc., points to a similar instance when his company worked on a major campus job with a New York architectural firm they did not know. To encourage a better team relationship, he says, Stanford sent the construction team to New York to meet the architectural staff face-to-face.
“It worked out to be one of the best collaborative teams we have ever been on,” says Schatzman, whose company is currently active on four Stanford projects. “We are working together again on the Denning House project. The job team was one moving part, and that is pretty unique.”
From a designer’s perspective, the LBRE department is “highly organized” and their project delivery process has been honed over the past 20 years, says Christopher S. Wasney, principal with CAW Architects.
“They empower their project managers and the university architect’s office to make good decisions for the long term, and they have a keen sense of responsibility of stewardship of their campus,” he says. CAW is currently in the design phase on two large campus projects and under construction on two projects, including the $23-million renovation of the Frost Amphitheater.
Wasney says the university plays the “long game” when it comes to design and budget decisions.
“They steward their resources very carefully and hew to a benchmark of what facilities should cost. They have a good idea of what a facility should cost, and they hold their teams to it,” he says.