Four Projects, One Campus and One General Contractor
Balfour Beatty delivers a complex vision of four projects completed concurrently for UNC-Wilmington
As the #1 education builder in the Southeast (ENR, 2020), Balfour Beatty understands the unique challenge colleges and universities face to balance budget requirements with the demand for best-in-class living and learning environments.
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNC-W) presented a need for its facilities to keep pace with growing enrollment. To support the University’s ambitions, their capital building program included three new projects:
- Veterans Hall: a 194,000-square-foot laboratory, office and teaching building delivered via CM at-Risk in a joint venture with Metcon Construction
- Freshman Village: a student housing expansion consisting of four new residential dormitories, 1,390 beds and 315,000 square feet of livable space delivered via a Public-Private Partnership (P3) with developer Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions
- Parking Deck: a 1,000 space, five-level parking deck delivered via design-build
Due to damage Hurricane Florence inflicted in 2018, substantial renovations were also required on Dobo Hall, home to the school’s biology and chemistry departments. UNC-W was faced with quickly identifying how, and more importantly when, the complete remodel could take place. Having already established ourselves on campus with three major construction projects, Balfour Beatty was awarded the project and began work in January 2019. Representing $200 million in work, these new buildings and enhancements to campus infrastructure will support the University’s growth for years to come.
For one general contractor to take on four separate projects concurrently within one university is not only challenging, but also virtually without parallel within the public education sphere. Having successfully partnered with UNC-W on various projects for over a decade, Balfour Beatty was uniquely suited to deliver their complex vision.
Our team’s multifaceted strategy included a comprehensive, campus-wide logistics plan that ensured minimal disruption to ongoing activities, strategic buyout and staffing of trade partners and a phased turnover plan that would facilitate timely inspections. Poised for success, Balfour Beatty attacked the challenges each project presented with this “one campus” strategy in mind.
One Plan Does Not Fit All
If you’ve ever been on an active college campus, you’ve experienced the energy and movement that comes with it. Students are hosting afternoon study sessions in courtyards or playing recreational sports, and there might even be a pep rally for an upcoming basketball game. When factoring in the presence of forklifts, bulldozers and hundreds of delivery trucks, the importance of a campus logistics plan becomes readily apparent.
With the constraints and safety of an active campus in mind, Balfour Beatty developed a proactive site logistics plan for all four projects—both site-specific for each project and for the entire campus—that successfully minimized the interaction between construction activities and campus traffic. Items of key concern were material delivery routes, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, noise control, proximity of the public to active construction and planning for new access corridors that did not currently exist.
Take the new Parking Deck for example. During preconstruction, UNC-W stakeholders requested Balfour Beatty avoid the entire north side of campus for all construction traffic due to its higher volume of pedestrian traffic and raised decorative crosswalks that the University desired to preserve. With careful planning and coordination, Balfour Beatty successfully routed the delivery of massive, 60-foot long precast concrete beams through the south side of campus while also ensuring minimal traffic disturbances along the way. This was made possible through the creation of a new access road that was staffed full-time during all major deliveries.
At Veterans Hall, the team had to determine how to safely transport 65-foot long, single piece steel columns that would eventually form the now iconic building connector into the heart of campus. Balfour Beatty’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) teammates collaborated on a plan that leveraged aerial drone photography and measurement tools. Prior to arrival, the team also field tested the route with the actual tractor trailer that would be conducting the delivery. They then organized and executed the plan eight times over four weeks, all between the hours of 5:30AM and 7:00AM to eliminate any potential impacts to student traffic.
Specific preparations were also made early on for Freshman Village. To provide students safe and alternate routes around the large-scale development, the team poured additional sidewalks at the beginning of construction and added asphalt bike trails to the west side of the jobsite.
The project teams also worked closely with UNC-W to ensure that a new traffic signalization project (not performed by Balfour Beatty) could be installed in time to allow pedestrian traffic to be diverted away from what would become one of the main construction entrances to the Veterans Hall jobsite. This allowed for unimpeded student flow due to construction operations.
To ensure delivery routes were maintained, our teams provided trade partners with detailed instructions during orientation. Key suppliers such as concrete, pump trucks and MEP supply house trucks also received comprehensive maps for their drivers.
Indeed, when approaching four separate projects on a single campus, Balfour Beatty knew it would be critical to ensure trades working on multiple projects strategically allocated their manpower and material resources across all four jobsites rather than treating their scope packages as a single contract. To prevent this and any accompanying safety concerns, Balfour Beatty enhanced physical barricades around the jobsites and staffed all four projects with multiple gate monitors. This concept helped to further separate campus pedestrian traffic from construction traffic.
Making the Team
Much like a coach strategically selects players for their team, Balfour Beatty knew that building the right team for each of the four projects was crucial. With our well-rounded team of in-house higher education experts, Balfour Beatty was able to successfully staff four independent project teams concurrently within the same campus.
Amidst a monumental industry labor shortage, the success of the four projects was also dependent on the careful vetting and selection of trade partners. When examining the mechanical and plumbing packages alone, roughly $20 million of which was dedicated to the Freshman Village, Balfour Beatty teammates knew it was critical to consider the impact that overlapping project schedules could have on the trades.
All four project teams spent considerable time during preconstruction analyzing schedules across all projects and where each partner would be during each phase to ensure they had the ability to allocate their workforce appropriately across more than one project simultaneously, if the need arose.
“It was paramount we had a full understanding of our trade partners’ schedules across all four projects,” explains operations director, Colby Willis. “When approaching what is an already thin labor market, it was vital to our success to also position our trade partners for success. In order to accomplish this, our teams had honest conversations with our partners early on to ensure that different projects would not pull on the same partners simultaneously that didn’t have the manpower for it.”
Establishing an Impactful Conclusion
Balfour Beatty knew from the beginning that a plan of completion had to be precise. The initial schedule called for all four projects to be completed concurrently in August 2020. From our deep experience with state construction projects, we were aware of the resources that would need to be allocated for inspections and training of the University’s facilities staff. Based on these constraints, we developed an accelerated, phased completion and turnover plan. Strategies that contributed to the accelerated path included:
- Building Information Modeling (BIM) allowed prefabrication of major building elements such as electrical distribution racks, in-wall rough ins and fabrication-ready ductwork directly from the 3D model. Off-site production also helped to eliminate costly in-the-field rework that can plague large projects.
- Pull planning kept the jobsite teams focused on achieving near-term production targets and major milestones.
- An unyielding focus on Zero Harm, including keeping jobsites clean and preventing OSHA’s “Fatal Four,” kept our workforce safe and increased production.
What we couldn’t have accounted for while creating a plan for three projects was that Balfour Beatty would be awarded a fourth which was already under construction, Veterans Hall. Initially begun by another contractor, the project was behind schedule at the time Balfour Beatty took the helm. Our team more than rose to the challenge, making up lost time and finishing ahead of schedule to fit seamlessly into the overarching turnover plan.
Adapting to the Challenges
As experts in our field, we’re always prepared for the plan to, simply put, not go as planned. Projects typically involve hundreds of people, multiple stakeholders and are impacted by an untold number of external and unpredictable variables.
On the Freshman Village project, the team discovered a massive primary fiber optic and communications duct bank during excavation – a potentially catastrophic item to accidentally strike on a college campus. To avoid the possibility of shutting down half of the communications for the campus, the team strategically pinpointed the location of the fiber optic duct bank and spaced aggregate piers around it to essentially divide and build the structure completely around the duct bank perimeter.
But that wasn’t the only challenge the team would work through. Wilmington, much like most other coastal areas, has a high and fluctuating water table that significantly impacts construction activities. While drilling for roughly 20-foot-deep aggregate piers, the team inevitably encountered groundwater. To dewater the site and create stable building conditions, the team installed a pump that ran continuously and brought in hundreds of cubic feet of stable soil so that concrete could be effectively poured and dried. Our team was well equipped and experienced with the area to literally build through and around any challenges they came across.
The jobsite teams all faced their own, significant challenges but as a group, the entire campus had to bounce back from two separate hurricanes. When Hurricane Florence impacted the East Coast of North Carolina, it brought substantial flooding to the UNC-W campus. The campus shut down all on-site construction operations for 20 consecutive days. Fifty-one weeks later, with buildings much further along and susceptible to damage, Hurricane Dorian brought storm force rain and winds impacting a campus that was in the final stages of re-building after Florence.
With schedules already compressed, many contractors might have deemed their original schedules impossible to meet. But our teammates and trade partners were committed to deliver, no matter the cause of the delay. Through diligent efforts, recovery plans, trade partner buy-in and close jobsite management, not only were all four teams able to mitigate the time lost, but all four also did it at a zero-cost premium to the bid day values.
The biggest surprise by far was the ripple effect caused by COVID-19. The mass pandemic caused supply chain disruptions, labor impacts and added safety requirements for temperature screenings, jobsite cleanings, additional PPE and physical distancing. With no room for delays, the teams quickly and nimbly adapted to these extensive challenges.
Balfour Beatty begins every project with a central purpose: to be a Relentless Ally for the success of each dream we are entrusted to build. For The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, that dream was all about creating more – more event and classroom space, more livable space and more functionality. Expanding the University for students and staff alike, our team’s multifaceted strategy to deliver UNC-W’s vision more than made the grade.