Raising the Bar

Nov. 1, 2004
Renovating and expanding athletic facilities can help institutions remain competitive and generate revenue.

Just as student athletes have raised the bar for a winning performance by becoming stronger, faster and more agile, standards also have been raised for collegiate recreation facilities. To remain competitive in the pursuit of top-quality student athletes and the revenues generated by sports and other uses of associated facilities, colleges and universities periodically must renovate and expand their recreation facilities.

Major projects typically range in cost from $25 million to $60 million, with a construction timeline up to two years and an investment of twice that time in the planning and design phases. Moreover, many institutions need to keep their recreation facilities operating, at least partially, during construction. Such highly complex projects require careful planning and construction management to ensure that the institution's vision can be realized on time, within budget, in a safe manner, and with minimal disruption to campus life.

Pre-construction planning

When a college or university is planning a major renovation or expansion of recreation facilities, the normal challenges associated with construction are magnified by issues associated with existing building conditions, the logistics of construction in a confined site on a busy campus, and, in many cases, the need to maintain at least partial operation of existing facilities.

Pre-construction planning helps ensure the project will be completed on time and within budget by providing administrators and architects with detailed, accurate cost estimates and schedules, developing a project execution strategy, performing constructability reviews and value engineering, and devising a procurement strategy.

Constructability reviews and value engineering can be particularly beneficial in collegiate recreation projects given that the vision for these facilities often is more expansive than either space or budget may allow. For example, alternative approaches may be identified that enable the team to maximize use of existing space, or more cost-effective ways to meet the same performance goals without sacrificing project scope, quality or architectural vision.

During the planning phase, any needs for early procurement of equipment and materials with long lead times, a common issue for athletic facilities, are identified. An effective procurement strategy coordinates arrival of equipment and materials at the optimal time in the construction process (helping to reduce the space required for staging the project), and ensures that the schedule will be met and that costs will be managed properly.

In many cases, a phased project execution strategy is developed that includes a construction manager, administration of the college or university, its athletic administrators, facility-management department and facility users. This allows at least some of the facilities to remain open during construction. This often is the only way the institution can obtain approval for the project from its various constituencies.

A successful phased approach balances several considerations, such as program, site and constructability. Other universities may prefer that the existing facility is shut down during construction. In either case, the college or university often will arrange to use some of the facilities of a nearby educational or commercial athletic facility.

Construction staging

The project should be staged carefully within a limited space. It is key that adequate space be provided for deliveries; construction activities, related equipment and new materials; and removal of demolition materials. Moreover, existing building and site constraints often require use of alternative construction materials and methods; for example, it may be necessary to use scaffolding and hand-building methods rather than a crane to move and place prefabricated construction materials.

An effective traffic and parking-management strategy can minimize disruptions of campus pedestrian and vehicular circulation. In many cases, a college campus cannot accommodate the vehicles of 200 to 300 construction workers, so there may have to be a dropoff area for tools and transportation for workers to the construction site from an off-site parking lot.

The safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors during construction is paramount. There must be an effective logistics and safety plan using fencing, barriers, signage, traffic signals and lighting to safely direct facility users into occupied portions of the building, and to re-route non-users and vehicles around the site.

A certain amount of noise, vibration and dust is inevitable with any construction project. However, construction activities must be planned and managed carefully to minimize these intrusions on campus life. At a minimum, a construction-management firm must meet noise, vibration and dust-management criteria set by the school and, in some cases, standards mandated by local ordinances.

Significant potential for disruption of ongoing campus activities occurs during construction of and changeovers in power, steam lines and other utilities. Whenever possible, these activities should be coordinated during holidays and semester breaks.

Communication is key

Effective communication is critical on a project of this nature. It is best facilitated through a single point of contact between the university and construction manager — a university project manager and construction project manager. Each of these individuals should communicate with his or her organization.

A website to facilitate these communications also can be created. The website typically has various levels of access — a public page that describes the basics of the site and schedule, construction notices and updates, and links to secure pages for architects, contractors and clients, with access to meeting minutes, drawings and other project documents. A web cam is a good way to promote the project, and enable both the public and distant design professionals to view progress and construction details.

Kelly is vice president of Skanska USA Building Inc., Atlanta. The Georgia Institute of Technology project was completed by Skanska USA and Hastings and Chivetta Architects (see sidebar above).

A sporting new look

Georgia Institute of Technology's outdoor Olympic-size pool and diving well originally were built for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Just a few years later, this facility needed expansion and renovation to meet the needs of Georgia Tech's varsity swimming and student recreation programs.

The university's Campus Recreation Center is made up of about 300,000 square feet of new and renovated space. An additional structural floor inserted into the existing open structure 59 feet above the upgraded pool contains six basketball courts, three multipurpose rooms and a multi-activity court. The upgraded facility has a fitness center, four racquetball courts and one squash court, a climbing wall, leisure pool, meeting space and an administrative office suite. A new outdoor pool with deck was built adjacent to the complex, and a 500-space parking deck was built north of the complex.

Initially, the plan was to enclose the natatorium and construct the basketball courts on top of the parking deck. Instead, the design-build team suggested inserting the floor between the natatorium floor and the existing roof. The existing roof was 120 feet above the natatorium floor, providing ample space for the additional floor. This solution provided more space for the recreation and athletic programs within the facility and reduced overall program costs.

However, the design presented significant structural engineering challenges. The floor system would span 175 feet between supporting columns and needed to meet strict vibration criteria. Engineering studies determined that a steel structure would have generated too much vibration to support the basketball courts. Instead, an innovative long-span concrete floor system was designed to meet vibration criteria.

The project team could not use conventional hoisting to lay the structural slab beneath the existing roof, so contractors laid the slab by hand. Moreover, careful and precise construction techniques were necessary to meet the specific vibration criteria. Georgia Tech used the process as a learning experience for faculty and students; the construction managers conducted tours during this phase of the work.

Because of site constraints, the construction team could not use conventional commercial building methods, such as cranes and forklifts, to construct the new walls. Instead, scaffolding was hung, and construction was staged from the roof.

Construction phasing enabled an existing recreational facility with a pool, gymnasium and athletic administration offices to remain open during the two years of construction. Phase one refurbished the Olympic pool, built the slab above the pool, and created the space for new basketball courts. When that was completed, users moved into the new facility. In phase two, the old recreational facility and pool were demolished, and the new recreational pool was built in its place.

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