A $50-million expansion of the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla., is adding a new structure and other components and amenities to modernize the nearly 30-year-old facility. Colorful water features and an expanded front plaza will aim to connect the venue more to its surrounding urban environment. A striking, screened valet parking garage will add another component that improves the center’s functionality while updating the campus’ overall aesthetics.

Additionally, the “Kravis 2020” project will add a new entrance/exit ramp to the center’s existing garage, which will help to improve traffic flow on and around the campus. Most critically, it will increase the size of the Kravis Center’s lobby by extending the exterior curtain wall out 25 ft.

The idea for the project originated in 2014, says Jim Mitchell, the main project representative for the Kravis Center.

“The idea was to enhance not only our impact in the city, but also the customer experience,” Mitchell told ENR Southeast. Now the center’s chief operating officer, Mitchell’s history with the building extends all the way back to its original construction in 1991, making him an important resource for the current project team.

“The big driver (for design-build) is the cost savings of not having to spend all that time and energy with the design process.”

– Jim Mitchell, Chief Operating Officer, Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts

While updating the look and functionality of the Kravis Center, the architect, Leo A Daly, fashioned its design to maintain the venue’s status as an iconic local landmark.

“The Kravis Center is one of the images of West Palm Beach, and you have to not only maintain but expand upon that iconic nature,” says Mike Rodebaugh, project manager with Leo A Daly.

Another design goal was to make the facility more friendly to the public and more connected to the surrounding urban environment. Originally, a water feature at the venue’s front effectively cut off the facility from pedestrians. A new courtyard and plaza area will do much to improve flow.

Enhancing the ability of pedestrians to interact with the Kravis Center’s campus was a major point of the new design, Rodebaugh says.

“This is going back to one of those ideas that the theater itself is one of the major city icons,” he says. “It is [now] significantly more welcoming.”

Since construction started last May, the project team has been hustling through a tight, 22-month schedule, inclusive of design. The Weitz Co. is leading the project as design-builder, an approach it suggested in order to limit major project impacts to the existing buildings to just one performance season.

In a Weitz-produced video about the project, Mitchell explains: “It gets the job done at least a year sooner. The big driver, though, is the cost savings of not having to spend all that time and energy with the design process.”

Using design-build enabled Weitz to start construction in May 2018, just three months after winning the contract, Steve Provines, project executive for Weitz, says in the project video.

Pushing (Out) The Envelope

While the outside updates liven up the venue’s exterior appearance, it’s the 6,000-sq-ft addition to the center’s main lobby that will elevate the experience of show-goers, Kravis Center officials hope. The lobby accommodates 2,200 people for a performance in the center’s main concert hall.

To achieve this, contractors are extending outward by roughly 25 ft the existing main building while replacing—and replicating, as near as possible—its curving, curtain-wall-clad exterior.

That amount of extension “doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you look at (the lobby space) now, it is a lot,” says Doug Strathie, project manager for Weitz. “It completely changes the space.”

The goal for Kravis and Leo A Daly was to transform the lobby from a space that served mostly as a transition between the outside and inside, into more of a “human performance space,” says Rodebaugh, where the audience can mingle and otherwise be part of a broader performance.

With the extra space, “The staircase becomes a centralized sculptural element instead of the stairs off to the edge, and you realize that it’s a freestanding, interesting structural sculptural device,” Rodebaugh says.

Originally, the Kravis Center wanted to eliminate all columns from the interior of the lobby. There were 30 columns lined up roughly 8 ft apart along the perimeter of the existing structure. To achieve the goal of no interior columns while enlarging the building, contractors would have had to “basically weld new members to the existing ones to extend them out,” says Derek Wassink, vice president with structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti, and the engineer of record. However, that approach proved too time-consuming and cost prohibitive, he says.

The team then turned to utilizing as few interior columns as possible, ultimately three. With this approach, a new structural beam and column system would connect to a curved structural steel tube running along the perimeter of the existing building.

For the expanded lobby area, Thornton Tomasetti specified 12-in. by 35-in., 50-ksi roof beams fanned to match the existing radius. These new beams are supported by a curved HSS steel tube measuring 20 in. by 12 in. by ½ in. that is then welded to the existing curved steel structure. These roof beams are also supported by a new curved HSS measuring 20 in. by 12 in. by 3/8 in., according to Wassink.

The original exterior curtain-wall system was supported by 16 structural steel columns. Contractors removed these, and, coupled with the new ring beam system, installed three HSS 12-in. by 12-in. columns to support the existing roof structure, according to Weitz.

Since the new curtain wall is 25 ft farther away from  the existing structure’s original location, the system has  a larger surface area, and thus required 26 structural steel columns that replicate the spacing of the original layout.

Constructing this 25-ft extension, with its tight specifications, under the project’s schedule confines and with little to no room for error would prove one of the project’s biggest challenges. Performing a laser scan of the nearly 30-year-old structure would prove crucial.

The existing drawings “get you to some level of confidence, but not to where you can go to sleep at night,” adds Ryan Hullihan, Weitz project executive. “You really want to know: Are those drawings really right? What did they actually build here?”

In the Weitz-produced project video, Hullihan notes that the laser scan model helped the team coordinate all details of the new steel structure and the curtain wall tying into it, from the setting of anchor bolts 25 ft out from the existing radius to coordinating new mechanical-electrical-plumbing systems and avoiding clashes.

Constructing the new exterior had to take place with the existing structure fully in place. Construction began in the latter half of May 2018, just after the center’s performance season ended. According to Weitz, crews started constructing the new slab foundation in July. Steel erection began right after the new slab was complete, around the end of September.

Currently, the project team is roughly 80% complete with the lobby extension. Weitz expects to complete this work in late October.