These days it’s worth examination of methods such as Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). In a nutshell, these design processes bring consultants and contractors into the project lifecycle early, then ask them to work together to meet the customer’s criteria in the most cost-effective manner.
The different participants feed off one another’s strengths, creating win-win scenarios for everyone involved.
“There are several advantages to an IPD, CMAR or similar process,” explains Michael Shafer, director of consulting for JBA Consulting Engineers.
“The idea is to get the best work out of each player, because each feels he or she has a real influence on the finished product. Sub-contractors have a chance to provide a real-world perspective before the drawings are finalized. Earlier input can speed up the overall process, so these methods are often used on fast-track projects. Typically they’re cost effective as well, finishing at or below budget.”
CMAR was recently applied at the new Saint Xavier University campus in Gilbert, Ariz. It was an unusually rapid and innovative project, completed in just 19 months from initial planning to opening. Let’s delve deeper into how that successful integration proceeded to get an example of how firms may benefit from bucking the traditional ways.
Flexible and Functional
Saint Xavier University, founded in Chicago in 1846, is a mid-sized Catholic university offering degrees in business, education, nursing, and liberal arts and sciences. About three years ago, they connected with the town of Gilbert and partnered to build a university campus downtown.
The decision sparked a reevaluation of teaching methods throughout Saint Xavier.
“We formed a task force, 100 percent faculty, and challenged them to dream the impossible,” says Dr. Chris Zakrzewski, assistant provost for Technology and Instructional Innovation. “What would they want in their classrooms, not in five or 10 years, but in 25 years?”
He says they understood that technology today turns over every five to seven years, “but the building itself has to last.” The group was familiar with a growing body of research that stresses the advantages of collaborative, socially interactive teaching methods, and so they pushed for the creation of learning studios, rather than traditional classrooms, on the new campus.
“On the other hand, we know that transformative processes take time,” says Zakrzewski. “We wanted pedagogically flexible spaces that would accommodate the early adopters on our faculty as well as traditional lecturers.”
Collaborative Technology Throughout
The new campus opened last fall with a single four-story building. It includes six general-purpose learning studios designed by Carrie Perrone, AIA, principal and project designer for architecture and engineering firm SmithGroupJJR and Nathaniel Holland, senior project consultant, Audiovisual, for JBA.
Each studio has shared, wall-mounted 65-to-75-inch displays and wall-to-wall whiteboards for multiple groups of students. Two of the studios have fixed tables for groups of up to seven students. Two have smaller, movable tables for groups of various sizes or to be set up for lecture/discussion formats. Two use tables of varying heights, which, when used for lectures, function like traditional tiered classrooms.
“Yet professors can still rearrange the room in minutes for collaborative projects,” Zakrzewski notes. Throughout the building is a gigabit wireless network, which gives students the ability to connect to each other and to the Internet with any device — laptops, tablets or smartphones.
“We’re no longer living in a plug-in world,” says Tim Johnson, senior project consultant, Telecom, for JBA who designed the network and server room for the new building. In addition, there is a server room and six smaller IT equipment rooms, all connected with a 10GB fiber- optic backbone, ensuring that the building will be ready as data speeds increase.
Also on the network are 70 Christie Brio presentation servers, which add wireless connectivity from the instructor and student systems to the various displays. The Brios provide a simple method for anyone with network access to send images and sound from any computer, phone or tablet wirelessly to any display or combination of displays.
The third floor includes a full hospital simulation laboratory for the nursing program, with an elaborate video recording and playback system used for debriefing. There’s also a learning studio for nursing, dubbed the Immersion Room.
At the front is a hospital bed with a patient manikin. A ceiling-mounted camera captures demonstrations and projects them on the monitors wall-mounted around the room.
On the first floor is the general assembly, a high-ceiling space ideal for student and community events. It includes a three-projector video system, which can show a 40-foot edgeless, blended image or two or three side-by-side images.
The room itself has a flat floor but includes tiered, retractable seating in the back and movable tables and chairs in the front.
“We can seat anywhere from 50 to 230 people, or pull out all of the furniture for receptions or job fairs,” Zakrzewski says. “At Saint Xavier, it’s all about the students, not the instructors or the building,” says JBA’s Shafer. “The university is changing how teaching has been taking place for centuries.”
The Learning Commons
“To me, the most unique and interesting feature of the new building is its learning commons,” Perrone says. “We created a lantern at the corner of the building with floor-to-ceiling windows, putting the education on display. It’s very welcoming, warm and respectful of the community.”
The commons includes eight collaborative stations where students can work together. Like the new learning studios, each has a 55-inch flat panel, and students can connect to it or to each others’ devices using the wireless network.
Here, each display is embedded behind a large glass surface, where students can stand up and write notes or create diagrams as they work together on a project.
“In a lot of academic buildings, the key is efficiency, to get students in and out quickly,” Shafer explains. “Not here. Throughout the building, Saint Xavier is providing a place where students can linger, interact and learn from each other as well as from their instructors.”
A striking feature of the learning commons is a unique, 20-foot wide “mosaic” video wall. The concept was created by Saint Xavier, and then implemented and detailed by Perrone and Holland. It’s made up of 19 angled displays, visible from outside the building as well as inside.
“We did not purchase artwork for Gilbert,” Zakrzewski says. “Instead the video wall is part of a rotating gallery space showing the work of local artists, many from the high schools and community college. It’s a way to pull the town into the institution, giving them a reason to visit us.”
CMAR Spurs Success
One of the biggest challenges in creating this innovative environment was the project timeframe. The team spent 10 months in design and 12 in construction, compressed to just 19 months by finalizing the last designs after the building broke ground. The swiftness of the process allowed the school to open in 2015.
“Too often technology is an afterthought,” Zakrzewski says, “but we knew it would be a critical component of this building. We needed JBA on board very early to help create our technology vision, make sure the building would handle it and that everything would fit within our budget.”
Katie Stachler, NCARB, principal and project manager at SmithGroupJJR, says at Saint Xavier there were two design packages, one for the core and shell of the building and one for the interior and the internal systems. By and large vendor selection was done in just two steps.
“The CMAR, Okland Construction, was hired shortly after we were,” Stachler says. “They attended all of the design meetings and gave us real-time cost estimates for the different design elements.”
One place where CMAR helped immediately was the exterior. The architects originally favored metal panels with punched window frames, but subcontractor KT Fabrications suggested a unitized skin, which they were able to create in advance and then hang as the structure went up.
“That was a good illustration of the power of our process,” Stachler says. “We saved costs and, with the prefabricated panels, construction moved a lot faster. It would not have been possible had we committed to an exterior design then put it out to bid.”
For technology, Holland says, “We worked out our basic designs, then created only limited bid documents — a programming report and infrastructure layout, plus some narratives of what we wanted to accomplish.” The team chose Level 3 Audiovisual of Mesa, Ariz., as the AV integrator.
Once the firm was on board, the groups worked hand in hand, he adds. While Level 3 Audiovisual was hired after JBA completed the initial designs, Holland says, “They were involved early enough to circumvent any conflicts, either getting on board with what we planned or suggesting alternates before the drawings were finalized. In that way, we were able to avoid delays and any possibility of change orders.”
“Theoretically in Construction Manager at Risk, there will be no change orders at all unless the owner changes the scope,” Stachler adds. “If we miss showing some conduit, then the subcontractor should have been involved to include it.”
Whether CMAR makes the process easier may depend on whom you ask. Perrone explains, “There were more people at the table, so it was more complicated, and sometimes it was pretty intense,” explains Perrone, adding that it was the only way they could have delivered the project this quickly.
“There was no time for construction mistakes or time to debate on the systems used. The subs all had to be at the table.”
Johnson, in charge of the data infrastructure, says, “If we have everyone in the room early on, it’s so much easier to get the drawings, write the specifications they will need and get it all coordinated.”
Brent Durbin, project manager for Level 3 Audiovisual, echoes the sentiment, noting, “While it’s true our engineer spent more time on this than normally [would happen], overall it went a lot more smoothly, with very few issues. I felt it was a lot easier.”
In the end, the project was delivered on time and under budget, and the building is impressive.
“Everyone who walks in is amazed,” says Zakrzewski. “The technology is fantastic. If I could start over on our campus in Chicago, I’d build something similar to what we have in Gilbert.”