From Commuter School to Live-On Campus, Balfour Beatty Delivers Florida Atlantic University’s Dream
All the construction activity might not have created a soundtrack as conducive to studying as an iTunes playlist, but for Florida Atlantic University (FAU), our work building Parliament Hall was well worth a little noise and a lot of dirt. A 200,000-square-foot complex, Parliament Hall met both a critical need and a fervent dream – providing on-campus housing for the growing University to foster greater communal engagement and cultural immersion. In fact, Parliament Hall was the first residence housing complex in the University’s history to be planned, designed, and constructed specifically to enhance the freshman living and learning experience. And thanks to Balfour Beatty, joint venture partner, James A. Cummings Construction, in collaboration with architect, PGAL, that dream was delivered just in time for the fall 2013 semester.
But before students could fill their closets or connect to Wi-Fi, our project team had to construct this $31 million, ground-up, 600-bed residence hall in just 12 short months. (That’s 50 beds a month if anyone’s counting). And just like any college student whose classroom building is ever-so-conveniently located on the other side of campus, we had to lace up our
sneakers steel-toed boots and sprint to the finish line. But there was never a doubt that FAU had selected the right team for the job. Balfour Beatty’s relationship with FAU is 17 years and 15 projects strong, and during that time, our team has also supported the FAU foundation by providing scholarships and endowments through various community events. Above all, FAU has come to rely on Balfour Beatty as a partner that understands the integral role buildings play in achieving academic innovation and accountability.
From the onset, the Balfour Beatty/JA Cummings team knew they’d need to make the building go vertical with breakneck speed. In fact, there wasn’t even a single contingency day that could be added to the schedule for weather or other unexpected delays, because spots in the state-of-the-art residence hall had already been guaranteed to incoming students. This may not sound like a tall order, but consider this – if your picture of residence halls includes sterile surroundings and cramped quarters, dorms like Parliament Hall will make you want to go back to school. Literally. The residence hall’s many amenities include a 12,000-square-foot dining facility with retail space as well as a volleyball court and barbecue area not to mention expansive windows that overlook an outdoor courtyard and adjacent lake. Rooms on the top floors even have a view of the ocean. Scenic? Check. Luxury? Check. First impressions? Checkmate. Even the building’s lobby was comprised of cast-in-place terrazzo. “It's more like a Marriott,” said Charles Brown, senior vice president of student affairs for FAU at the project’s ribbon cutting ceremony. Forget the “big box, cookie-cutter” dorms of yesteryear, FAU needed a construction partner that could deliver exceptional quality in a condensed time-frame.
“There was no alternative to the scheduled completion date,” says Jamie Wray, senior project manager. “The University’s potential exposure to lost revenue coupled with the potential of freshman students lined up on move-in day with no place to go, mandated that our delivery date was fixed,” he affirms.
It was a commitment shared and understood by the entire project team and achieved, among several strategies, through the complete digitization of all construction documents. This means every RFI, every drawing, and every change order was three things – electronic, accessible, and centralized – which made the collective JV team more efficient not to mention eco-friendly. The green choice was the only fitting one for a project that is currently seeking LEED Silver certification due to our team’s expertise in selecting low VOC adhesives and high efficiency MEP equipment among other sustainable materials.
Of equal if not greater importance in driving the schedule forward was the careful vetting and selection of subcontractor partners. Due to the recent economic downturn, the Balfour Beatty/JA Cummings team realized the very imminent and potentially catastrophic threat defaults could pose. “This was a very volatile time in the subcontracting community,” recollects Jamie. Even despite the team’s best efforts, a few of the finish subs did, unfortunately, default. Proving the depth of our market knowledge, Balfour Beatty retained other subcontractors who successfully executed these scope packages. If there was an exam for resiliency in the construction world, the entire Parliament Hall project team would pass with flying colors.
From the SATs to the MCATs, every test seems to include at least one sneaky, “I don’t remember studying this” type of question meant to sift out the better students. If construction projects can be likened to a test – and just take our word for it that they can – Parliament Hall’s puzzle might well have been its exterior skin. The design called for tilt-up panels, which would have been a no brainer if the building didn’t extend past five or six stories. In addition to being an economical choice, it was also an expedient choice since the erection of panels enables project teams to go from a skeleton to full envelope in times that would make Egypt’s stone masons stand in awe. Parliament Hall, however, was seven stories. At that height, the use of panels became much like that proverbial trick question, requiring the Balfour Beatty/JA Cummings team to seemingly defy the laws of physics. Or at least appear to do so with some clever stacking and careful crane maneuvers.
No student obtains a sought-after grade by verbal commitment alone, and much in the same vein, our team tackled the Parliament Hall project with a solid plan and a hefty amount of sweat equity thanks to the sizzling South Florida sun. From scheduling to the building skin and subcontractor selection, every detail of this high-end residence hall was examined and executed with the utmost care, resulting in a project that realized FAU’s vision – inspiring students to choose on-campus housing where they are surrounded by peers and staff who will support their academic and personal success.
"Even in this era of Facebook and Twitter, places like this are still the best social network of them all," praised Anthony Barbar, chairman of FAU's board of trustees, at the project’s ribbon cutting. "We blew everybody out of the water," agreed student body president Peter Amirato. "This takes our game to a whole new level."
Balfour Beatty may not be in the business of the three Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic – but we sure do know our rebar, rough-ins, and risers. And we’re looking forward to delivering FAU’s dreams for decades to come.