A flurry of activity is under way at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), as construction teams continue working on a series of projects totaling $100 million. With a current enrollment of more than 15,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students, the school — located in Johnson City — is committed to bringing significant change to its campus.
“We have approximately 25 projects either in design or construction,” said William Rasnick, associate vice-president of facilities planning, management and construction of ETSU. “They cover many different areas, including athletics, housing research, academics, student services and capital maintenance, and range in size from the $26 million parking garage to a couple of capital maintenance projects with budgets of $500,000.”
Construction on the parking garage began during summer of 2012. A parking master plan identified the need for parking garages on the campus over the next 20 years to facilitate student and campus growth.
The new garage contains 1,224 parking spaces, and is the first to be built on the ETSU campus.
“The current garage is for students only,” said Rasnick. “Additional areas for food service, public safety and a welcome center are located on the perimeter of the garage. The garage is scheduled to be open for students in January 2014, at the start of second semester. The students identified the parking garage as a major need at this time, and approved parking fees to support the construction.
“We've developed master plans in all our major functional areas that identify the primary needs of the university. The current projects address those needs, and in most cases have been many years in the making. A lot of planning went into the construction site and its effect on the campus community. The process has created many challenges, but the process has been relatively smooth. I know everyone is excited about the garage opening, as it will be a great addition to the ETSU campus.”
Rentenbach Constructors Inc. is responsible for building the parking garage and alternate parking lot.
“Some of the main challenges have been the relocation of a main communications duct bank that ran right through the middle of the project, said Brian Stinson, project coordinator of Rentenbach. “This communications duct bank fed ETSU, the Veteran's Administration and The JC Med Center, so if we happened to tear up the line by accident, those three facilities' communications would be lost until repair. Since the communications duct bank ran through the middle of the project, the relocation had to be done first, so we could finish the earthwork and start drilled piers.
“Working around students, and trying to keep them safe is always a challenge,” said Stinson. “Also, when you're working on a college campus, you don't have a lot of room to store materials, so when you get four or five trades working on the site, the room you had is almost gone. And we've had to coordinate road closures with the college. They need a one-week notice prior to closing, so they can warn students. We've had to make sure we started on the date we gave them and finish on the date given, so the road could be reopened. This has been a big challenge.”
The new parking garage structure is made from precast concrete. It took 880 trucks to deliver all the beams, double tees and columns. Rentenbach had to use traffic controllers to direct traffic during deliveries, to keep students out of harm's way. The precast erection took 11 weeks. An additional week was needed to finish the welding and grouting.
Crews had to perform a variety of tasks to make room for the new garage.
“We had to demo the existing parking lot and tennis courts, install new drainage structures, bring the earth up to sub grade, then the asphalt subcontractor had to place stone, binder, the finish coat of asphalt and finally stripe,” Stinson said. “This had to be done after the spring semester was over, so that students would be gone. This task could have been finished in eight weeks, but with the record amounts of rain, it took right up until the students came back for the fall semester.”
A two-story office building is attached to the garage and consists of a welcome center and public safety quarters. The new food service building will contain a small chain restaurant and a convenience store that will serve faculty and students.
Unprecedented showers have delayed the project, which already had its share of challenges.
“The massive amounts of unsuitable soils that had to be dug out, hauled off and replaced was the biggest surprise. Utilities are always running everywhere on college campuses, so they are always a concern. We've also run into a few areas where we had to hammer out trench rock,” Stinson said.
The most painstaking tasks for crews so far have been masonry and structural steel work.
“The masonry work consisted of over 4,000 pieces of limestone and 30,000 anchors that mostly had to be attached to precast concrete, which made this a tedious task,” Stinson said. “After we got the limestone laid up, we had to drop the scaffolding back down, then lay brick in- between the limestone. This also made it time-consuming, having to top out the walls twice with two different materials. The structural steel had a lot of different designs such as aesthetic columns on the office face that made a lot of corners, parapet walls on the office, all of the stairwells, and the food service building. Also, the roof on the office is pitched by the structural steel, so all of these design aspects made the structural steel scope very difficult and time consuming.
“There are two OIT rooms, one in the office building and one in the food service building that have to be 100 percent complete before the garage can be opened. The two rooms contain all of the communication components for the fire alarm, emergency phones, security cameras, public safety radios and telephone system. These rooms have to have all of the sheet rock hung, finishes complete, doors hung, locked and dust- free before the college will accept the room to start installing their equipment. Construction will still be going on the outside these rooms, and it makes it very tedious to provide a dust-free environment for OIT's equipment.”
Currently, crews are working on plumbing, HVAC, electrical, metal stud framing, exterior sheathing, air barrier, storefront/curtain-wall, expansion joints and caulking, masonry, roofing and grading.
“We have removed over 40,000 cubic yards of dirt. There was an existing parking lot, road, stairs and a communications line that also had to be torn down before we could begin drilling piers,” Stinson said.
Equipment used on site includes a crane for precast concrete and structural steel; Watson drill rigs for drilled piers; a Cat track hoe; bulldozers; compactors for earthwork; JLG lifts for caulking; washing brick; metal framing and exterior sheathing; scissor lifts for interior electrical; HVAC hydromobile scaffolding for masonry; a Cat grader; and an asphalt machine.
Materials include cast-in-place concrete for drilled piers; grade beams; retaining wall; slabs and sidewalks along with precast concrete for the parking garage structure; structural steel for office and food service framing; and CMU, limestone and brick for masonry work.
Rentenbach crews hope to have work finished by mid-January, but there's plenty more construction ahead.
ETSU's plans call for a highly anticipated football stadium, with a projected cost of $18 million. Work has yet to begin, as it remains in the design phase, and it's still unclear where the stadium will be located. Many of the university's other projects range in budget from $3 to $10 million, although details have not yet been released.
The new tennis courts on campus serve both athletics and campus recreation. Recently completed by C & T Construction, the twelve tennis courts were built on the west end of campus, replacing those lost to the new parking garage construction project. The Dave Mullins Tennis Complex and Buddy Hartsell Courts are the home of the ETSU Buccaneer men's and women's tennis teams. The six competition courts were completed earlier this year and named after two former ETSU tennis coaches. They feature outdoor lighting, a state-of-the-art scoreboard and terraced hillside seating that overlooks the entire facility.
The remaining six are operated by the Department of Campus Recreation and are available for use by ETSU students, faculty and staff. These are used for PE classes, tennis club practices/competition and intramural tennis tournaments.
Students also have access to new facilities located in the Wayne G. Basler Center for Physical Activity, built in 2002 as a 120,000 sq. ft. (11,148 sq m) complex. In 2011, plans were made for an expansion of the structure, and in August 2013, the project was completed. The expansion includes a volleyball/indoor soccer/basketball court, a martial arts studio, a yoga studio, a change room, an extra 4,000 sq. ft. (371 sq m) area for the weight room and a cycling studio. The Center also features racquetball/squash courts, an outdoor challenge/ropes course, an indoor and outdoor climbing wall, an eight-lane indoor swimming pool and locker rooms.
The grounds at ETSU underwent a transformation beginning of last summer, after it was determined the center part of campus would be permanently closed to traffic, allowing for more green space and walkway areas and eliminating vehicular traffic in an area that has a large number of pedestrians.
Closing two intersections established a pedestrian area between Brooks Gym and Sam Wilson and Ball halls, where the Veterans Memorial is located. Barricades at both sites were put in place in early June.
ETSU also constructed a small traffic circle at Alexander and Sherrod to assist motorists who attempt to access the closed portion of campus. Accommodations were made in the enclosed area for emergency vehicle assistance and campus deliveries. ETSU officials teamed with a disability consultant to create new-handicapped spaces, replacing those lost on Gilbreath Drive and in Lot 37.
The creation of a central campus core closed to vehicular traffic has long been part of ETSU's campus master plan. During phase one, work began to replace the pavement and parking spaces with grass areas offering landscaping and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. The core features a great lawn and areas that welcome students. The closed area enhances safety for students by removing vehicular traffic from an area that serves as a primary pedestrian access for the main campus.
Rasnick said it was extremely rewarding watching the designs come to life from the master planning process through the construction and activation of the projects.
“The activity and equipment are really part of the campus life since I've been here,” said Rasnick. “The construction process does cause some disruptions, but all efforts are made to minimize those problems. There are many stakeholders and keeping everyone informed and on the same page is a real challenge, but the last few years have been a very exciting time for the ETSU campus.
“We've been able to add and upgrade many facilities that directly impact the student experience,” Rasnick said. “All the housing is either new or renovated, we have built a new student recreation center and most of the classrooms have been renovated and now have smart classroom technology. The list of improvements is long, but they certainly are student focused, and have enhanced the student experience.”