A Virtuoso Performance for Palomar College
Check “yes” or “no.”
That’s the choice voters in San Diego County, California had to make in November 2006. It would be a decision of great magnitude, determining the destiny of thousands of local students and professors for decades to come. When the ballots had been counted, the people affirmed their enthusiastic support for education, approving a $694 million bond known as “Proposition M” that enabled Palomar Community College to repair and upgrade its facilities.
Thanks to Balfour Beatty, the citizens of San Diego County not only received a worthy return on their investment but the College also realized one of its long-held dreams – a renaissance for its visual and performing arts program at the San Marcos campus location. Making that dream a reality took a gifted orchestra comprised of architect, Mosher Drew, and countless local subcontractors working in harmony to build a timeless masterpiece. As the general contractor, Balfour Beatty conducted this $24 million renovation and expansion project that took nearly two years to construct. When the facility opened to rave reviews, it was clear that the ensemble’s talent, chemistry and ability to improvise made all the difference.
The project, which had been rehearsed in countless board rooms for nearly eight years prior to the bond passage, included renovations to the College’s existing Howard Brubeck Theatre and construction of a new Performing Arts Complex. Upgrades to the Brubeck Theatre, originally built in 1979, achieved several key goals, including enhanced acoustics, modernized audio-visual and electrical systems and a reshaped stage/auditorium seating area to improve sight lines. The Performing Arts Complex, connected to the Brubeck Theatre via a second level walkway, is a hybrid masonry and steel structure that features state-of-the-art performance venues and studios to support the creative endeavors of students and faculty in Palomar’s music, theatre and dance programs.
A Foundation of Improvisation
Musicians, like construction professionals, know that the ability to deliver a memorable performance often depends just as much on classical training as the ability to spontaneously embellish upon the written score. At Palomar College, Balfour Beatty uncovered site conditions that required a vastly different arrangement of the original project plan. Brubeck Theatre is located at the lowest elevation of the entire San Marcos campus. The results of an initial geological survey, affirmed by our knowledge of the campus obtained on other projects, revealed the presence of an underground river running through the site at a depth of approximately 17 feet. Because the entire foundation structure was designed for drilled caissons spanning 30-70 feet deep, it was necessary to use a dewatering well throughout the course of the project to effectively combat continuous water seepage prior to the foundation pour.
But this was just a prelude to the problems the team would encounter with regard to the caissons, both those already buried beneath the site and those planned as part of the renovation. After demolition, the team observed that an existing caisson located at the corner of the Theatre’s rigging tower was not as deep as the as-builts reflected. Since the building’s new elevator tower was slated to be constructed within the footprint of this shallow caisson and connecting grade beams, a complete redesign was required. To solve this unexpected dilemma, Balfour Beatty synchronized a new plan with the concrete subcontractor, geotechnical firm, structural engineer and inspector representing the Department of State Architects (DSA). Initially, the collective team devised a solution to drill and pour micro-piles in multiple locations around the shallow caisson. After further investigation, however, the team agreed upon a much more cost effective and less obtrusive path forward: redesigning the new elevator tower foundation caissons and relocating them a short distance away from the existing, shallow caisson. Not only did this solution result in minimal schedule delay, but it also represented a savings of over $50,000 for the owner.
In what could be described as the crescendo of the project’s foundation complexities, the drawings called for one of the new caissons to be installed below a room within the Theatre that had a mere eight-foot ceiling clearance. Since the only drill rig that fit inside this limited vertical space was not heavy enough to fully penetrate the bedrock, site conditions once again necessitated out-of-the-box thinking. Ultimately, Balfour Beatty retained a subcontractor that drilled a series of 36 six-inch holes into the rock, ingenuously creating the three-foot diameter hole the caisson required without the need for a larger drill rig. An exercise in creativity, this solution was just one of the many ways team Balfour Beatty served the owner as more than a construction manager but a true construction partner.
Because many of the Theatre’s existing conditions were not revealed until the completion of demolition, Building Information Modeling (BIM) served as the project team’s primary means of ensuring all new building systems were designed and constructed without conflicts that would have impacted cost or schedule. By way of example, nearly all of the building’s mechanical system piping and duct routing required redesign, essentially rendering the team’s delivery method a quasi-design-build endeavor.
Balfour Beatty’s resilience in the face of the project’s unforeseen obstacles struck a chord with the owner. “We encountered many issues on the Howard Brubeck Theatre renovation. [The project manager] was able to bring together the necessary consultants and reach a consensus as to the best methods of re-engineering the foundations without losing schedule time and without great expense,” praised Ralph Johnson, construction manager for Palomar College.
At the project’s ribbon cutting ceremony, Norma Miyamoto, interim dean of arts, media, business and computer systems for Palomar College, expressed enthusiasm for the program’s future. “I’m excited that we’re able to take this brick structure that was never acoustically sound and turn it into a multipurpose venue. I truly believe that students learn from dynamic faculty, and having this crown jewel, we’ll be able to recruit more outstanding faculty for our program.”
Beethoven once said, “This is the mark of a really admirable man: steadfastness in the face of trouble.” Among the qualities that make one excel at one’s chosen craft—whether it is tickling the ivories, gliding across a stage with gravity defying spins or applying mortar in thick, generous layers between blocks of ruddy clay—it’s the passion to persevere the makes all the difference.