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Contractors Building New Town, University From Scratch

Wed February 15, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Bonnie L. Quick



A project under way in Collier County, FL, is just short of a miracle.

Situated on 5,000 acres currently used for row crops, sod and pasture in Collier County, contractors started construction of Ave Maria in April 2005.

It is believed to be the first modern town to be developed in conjunction with a university.

The construction of Ave Maria also is the first project under the Rural Lands Stewardship Program, designed to plan for the future of 200,000 acres of undeveloped land in eastern Collier County.

Project Manager David Genson of Barron Collier said the four general contracts in phase one total $300 million. They are Suffolk/Craft Construction, a joint venture of the Miami and Naples, FL-based companies, for Ave Maria University; Opus South of Tampa, FL for the Town Core; CH2M Hill Constructors for the water and wastewater system; and Lee Mar of Ft. Myers, FL, for site development.

The community is being designed to reflect its rural roots, while offer a full range of residential and commercial options to its citizens.

Genson is overseeing all the rough grading and construction of the core infrastructure, as well as the water and waste water treatment facilities.

“Fortunately, building the core infrastructure on this site located 18 miles inland has been easy digging. We don’t have the sandy soil that is closer to the coastal area, nor do we have to doing any blasting of hard limestone. The soil is sand and weathered lime so does not need a lot of additional soil stabilization. We used rock densification on the Town Core section and surcharge piles built up 20 to 25 feet over the building pad.”

The pilings sit on the soil from approximately six to eight weeks while soil settlement is being monitored. When the compacting of soil is at optimal level, crews remove the pilings.

So far, crews have moved 2.5 million cu. yds. of soil while preparing the site.

“This is a huge undertaking but we are getting more and more comfortable,” Genson said. “The magnitude and complexity of the project requires some intense concentration, as we are starting from farmland without any infrastructure or roadways.”

The site is mostly flat fill, with a berm located by the water and waste water treatment facility. When finished the first floors will be approximately 5 ft. above grade.

Grading at the 1,000-acre university site will be tiered up from 25 to 31 ft., with the use of retaining walls and without creating too many berms of any magnitude.

Approximately 200 to 250 crew members are currently working at the site, but that number is expected to peak at 1,500 when vertical construction gets going in the late spring or early summer.

Genson said a majority of the crew hails from the Lee County area and have a 30 to 40 minute commute to reach the rural job site.

He expects more workers from outside the area to move in as work increases. The only option they will have is to stay at hotels 20 to 30 mi. away from the site.

Ave Maria Spokeswoman Dolly Roberts said the project will transform what is now a rural area, “into a lively, self contained university town that will be pleasing to all ages.”

The Ave Maria Town and University project is a joint venture of The Ave Maria Foundation, founded by Thomas S. Monaghan, also Domino’s Pizza founder, and the Barron Collier Companies.

Currently at the site, crews have a dozen to 18 backhoes doing everything from excavation to utility work. Volvo 40-ton dump trucks and six-wheel-drive loaders are helping prepare the site for utility placement.

Water and wastewater will be underground, but for now electricity will be above the ground. Later, within the town, electricity will be placed underground.

Connecting the university and the town is a Town Core, anchored by the landmark Oratory, which, at 100 ft., is to be the tallest building and centerpiece in the community.

Genson anticipates crews will use several cranes in the Town Core to accomplish the vertical work.

The Town Core will incorporate retail and commercial space, as well as residential condominiums. The Core, along with three additional commercial centers, will provide most essential goods and services.

Approximately 45 percent of the total town area will be devoted to lakes and open space.

It is anticipated that the first phase of the university and town, including representative housing and commercial areas, will be operational in mid-2007.

“We had one work stoppage because of hurricane Wilma, which hit on a Monday. Crews were back to work by Wednesday,” Genson said. “There was more impact to the surrounding area than the actual project. Collier County had little structural damage — it was mostly landscape, water and sewer system.”

When completed, the town will contain some 11,000 residential dwellings in a wide variety of price ranges and neighborhoods. including apartments, condominiums, starter homes and estate homes.

Community resources will include an on-site fire/sheriff/EMS building, as well as medical facilities provided in partnership with the NCH Healthcare System; all will be operational when the community opens.

The Collier County Public Schools have been gifted land for both an elementary and a middle school, and the university will operate a K-12 parochial school.

“There are so many elements in this project that are sources of great pride,” Roberts said. “This is the first time for a new land use project in this area. The problems are really opportunities to take a rural habitat and have it become a viable community, while preserving the environment and being economically responsible.

Roberts said the developer has already fielded 15,000 inquiries from people that want to live a small, self contained town.

The Ave Maria Foundation was founded in 1983 by Monaghan who kept his faith commitment to focus on a variety of Catholic charities, with a special emphasis on Catholic education. The Foundation established Ave Maria College in 1998 to offer a rigorous program of studies in the Catholic liberal arts tradition, to prepare students for leadership in academics and professional occupations, as well as to provide service to the greater community.

Total buildout of the project is set for 2016, when approximately 30,000 people are expected to live in the town and at the university. The area is expected to employ 10,000 people. CEG