By Jeff Light, VP of Division Operations

My first higher education project with Hoar Construction was building a new student recreation and wellness center for Abilene Christian University. Our client wanted to replace the outdated, existing rec facility which housed un-airconditioned gyms filled with a few punching bags and ropes for climbing. ACU enlisted us to help create a modern, state-of-the-art facility which promotes fitness and enhances student recreation activities. The project was a milestone for the school and was such an exciting experience to be a part of. A few years later, after completing several more projects together, we held a ribbon cutting and tailgate for the school’s first on-campus football stadium. Being on campus with faculty, students, alumni, and fans as we all celebrated the Wildcat’s first home football game in 50 years was an unforgettable experience.

That excitement and energy is one of the main factors that makes higher education projects different than any other type of construction. Our higher education clients are extremely motivated by the end product and what it’s going to do for the school they’re so passionate about. Some of the same characteristics that make higher ed projects different, can also make them challenging. Here’s 5 things that have to be considered when planning higher ed projects:

1. One Project, Many Stakeholders

This is a crucial factor your contractor needs to understand and be able to manage when planning your project. It’s not enough that they be able to communicate effectively with just you, they have to be able to communicate and coordinate with every stakeholder the project affects. That could mean the traffic department, campus police department, utilities department, not to mention the individual user groups — like residence life or the athletic department. On higher education projects, there’s no such thing as a simple logistics plan. Contractors have to review the plan with every group, and then revise it based on each group’s individual needs and requirements. A builder who can effectively collaborate with all the stakeholders involved in your project will keep your project running smoothly and keep the burden of constant communication off your plate.  

2. Parking and Site Access

When you’re working in the middle of an active campus, there’s not typically an easy or simple way to get to the job site. Imagine the route you would take to get to the middle of your campus. You would probably park in a lot that requires key card access or a parking permit. Then walk or take campus transportation to the specific building you’re trying to reach. Now imagine you’re trying to get an entire construction crew and all of their materials, equipment, and tools to the middle of campus. On higher education projects, contractors have to plan and account for literally every detail. You have to find available parking wherever you can for your trade partners and then provide a shuttle or detailed route for them to get to your job site. You have to have perfect communication with all of your vendors about where they need to be and at what time, and then ensure a member of your team will be there to guide them to the site. Otherwise, you could have delivery trucks waiting at gates, backing up traffic, and delaying your schedule. This is where the experience of working on an active campus is vital. Leaving even one small detail up to chance can quickly throw off a project’s schedule, so it’s important to know all the specific items a logistics plan needs to include.

3. Materials and Storage

A lack of laydown area isn’t unique to higher education projects, but when combined with the accessibility issues we discussed above, it can make getting materials to your job site extremely difficult. We recently overcame this challenge on an HVAC replacement project at Texas A&M University by using prefabrication and just in time deliveries. Our team rented a warehouse off campus and had materials delivered there. Our trade partners preassembled the large ductwork at the warehouse, and then delivered the pieces to our job site as they needed it. By storing materials off site you’re not only keeping the site on campus clear, you also have the opportunity to repack and organize materials so they can be delivered in fewer loads.

4. The Student Factor

In our experience, college students are curious and usually in a hurry to get to class. Those traits can easily lead them to search for shortcuts around, or even through, construction sites. The safety of students is the top priority. We have to set up clearly defined perimeters and constantly maintain the security of our job site. When building in a high-profile location on campus, it’s usually worthwhile to invest more money into high quality fencing and netting. And if you’re trying to keep your project’s progress off social media, it’s a good idea to use full screens around the job site fencing.

5. Campus Activities

Campuses are dynamic — there’s always something going on. Whether it’s Parent’s Weekend or campus-wide concert, we need to be prepared and able to essentially shut construction down, pull everything inside the fences, and help our client make their campus look clean and beautiful.  Our team always has to stay up to date with the academic and events calendar. It’s our responsibility to know what’s going on and ask how it will affect our daily operations. For our clients, the university is their business. It’s our business to make sure our progress doesn’t negatively impact the student experience.

More than once while working on a higher education project, I’ve looked up and seen the president of the university watching our work. When your clients work on campus, you’re bound to get a lot more surprise visits. That interest and investment in the project is one of the reasons I love working in higher education. Our clients have such a clear vision of how each project is going to enhance the college experience of the end user. Getting to help bring their vision to life is an honor and an exciting opportunity. Here’s a detailed look at how we helped ACU bring their Vision in Action plan to life, transforming their campus in the process.

As students continue to evolve, so do their needs and expectations for campus facilities. Read more about how these emerging trends are shaping higher education construction.