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Crews Get Down to Business for New Samford University School

The $30 million, 73,270 sq. ft. (6,807 sq m) facility is set for completion by the fall 2015 semester.

Wed April 30, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

New construction at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., is proving challenging for students and faculty to navigate around campus, as work continues on a new building to house the Brock School of Business. The $30 million, 73,270 sq. ft. (6,807 sq m) facility is set for completion by the fall 2015 semester.

"There’s tremendous excitement among the university community," said J. Howard Finch, dean and professor of finance, Samford’s Brock School of Business. "Students are thrilled, and the new building has helped enhance enrollment in the business school. Faculty and staff look forward to working and teaching in an invigorating new facility, which should enhance pride and learning effectiveness."

The business school’s new home will include a forum that can serve as many as 400 people for receptions, meetings and lectures. Interactive breakout rooms and a student business incubator are included in the plans, along with an investment portfolio room, two computer-teaching labs and almost a dozen classrooms.

"We have an excellent curriculum, faculty members and a wonderful campus; however, our instructional facilities are dated, and there’s no sense of ownership or culture to help our students fully embrace their Brock School of Business education," Finch said. "The new building will have state-of-the-art technology, informal study and meeting areas, lots of room for small group meetings with faculty members, and hosting facilities to bring organizations from the business community into our school.

"This will be the first new instructional facility built on campus in the last decade," said Finch. "Recent campus projects have included new dormitories and athletic facilities. We need to bring instructional facilities up to date to have more room for growth and flexibility. The campus footprint is tight, and available building locations are primarily surface parking lots. The location of the new business building fits neatly into the existing campus layout, located directly behind the library and the law school and adjacent to freshman dormitories."

A formal announcement regarding the building was made in April 2013, when Samford alumnus and business executive Gary Cooney announced a pledge of more than $12 million to fund the project. Additional gifts have been made by individuals and business organizations, which support Samford’s academic programs and overall mission.

Hoar Construction is serving as general contractor.

"Our role is to make sure the building stays within the owner’s budget, is built to the highest quality standard available in the industry and is constructed safely with minimal interruption to the active college campus," said Mike Waller, Hoar project manager. "We are responsible for all work required to complete the facility — inclusive of site demolition, site work and utilities, concrete and steel structure, masonry/limestone/window/curtain wall building exterior and complete interior finishes.

"Construction on an active college campus always presents challenges, with safety of the students and faculty first and foremost, along with minimized disruption to ongoing activities and events. Clear communication is paramount to our success on the project. Relocation of existing utilities requires significant coordination with the university to ensure there is no interruption to campus services or delay to the building schedule. A very refined design requires a high level of coordination with the project architect and the various trade contractors."

There are currently several excavators in use installing utilities, the largest is a Komatsu 300-class machine. Tri Axle dump trucks are hauling excess materials off site, while a Peiner SK-415 tower crane will be the primary fixed crane used on site.

"The only challenges so far have been a cold and wet 2014. Four days lost to snow and ice in central Alabama is out of the ordinary," Finch said.

The business school, currently housed in Dwight Beeson Hall, was in need of a new home, as the current building is more than 40 years old. The space vacated by the business school is to be reassigned to other university departments. Current plans call for the renovation of the existing building to be repurposed for instructional needs. The future tenants have not yet been identified, but several of the other academic schools on campus could reportedly benefit from additional office and classroom space.

Additional materials and early site work have included 12,000 cu. yds. (9,174 cu m) of mass excavation, 566 ft. (175.5 m) of new sewer main and laterals, 650 ft. (198 m) of new domestic and fire service water lines, 900 ft. (275 m) of new storm sewer, 750 ft. (228 m) of new underground electrical service duct bank, 4,200 cu. yds. (3,211) of concrete, 11 tons (10 t) of structural steel, 62,000 sq. ft. (5,760 sq m) of brick/limestone on the exterior, 210 windows and 2,200 sq. ft. (204 sq m) of curtain wall.

New construction is causing traffic and parking issues on campus.

Because the site for the building is a former commuter parking lot, a temporary lot has been added adjacent to Beeson University Center to help ease parking in the central campus. A temporary shuttle is running to assist students and employees in moving from remote parking to the central campus.

Jim Hartsell, AIA of Birmingham’s Davis Architects, said the new structure needed to be a modern learning facility, while fitting into the traditional Georgian architecture of the campus.

"We have extensive design experience with university buildings throughout Alabama, and wanted to incorporate all the best concepts into making this the best new business school facility in the country.

Neil Davis, president, is the leading expert on traditional Georgian architecture in the Southeast. The firm did the original campus master plan for Samford University in the 1950s. All of the years of history we have working with the buildings on campus factor into our design approach to this project.

"Because of the need to create exciting, modern interior spaces for student interaction and learning within the framework of a very traditional campus building, this is an interesting challenge for an architect. The site, however, is relatively constricted. The building almost has to fit in it like a piece of a puzzle."

Hartsell said the building has collaborative breakout spaces for student interaction throughout the structure. Also, the portfolio management room offers a simulated stock exchange trading floor experience for students.

"The building has four levels," said Hartsell. "It will be constructed with a cast in place concrete frame. The exterior will be brick masonry and limestone to match the buildings on campus."

According to Hartsell the environment also played a role in the design plans.

"We have incorporated many sustainable building practices into our specifications, such as the use of recycled materials. A 100-year-old oak tree that had to be removed from the site will be recycled and used for wood flooring, paneling and furniture in the building.

"Samford is a great client to work with," Hartsell said. "They always look at the big picture, and the long-term impact of a design project for their university. They take great pride in protecting the character of their campus, which is not always the case in projects where the budget is the sole driving factor."

Some classrooms will be equipped with "capture" technology to allow classes to be recorded and enhanced for electronic and online learning. A large student commons with breakout rooms and informal seating will help students feel a sense of ownership of their academic programs. A community resource room will allow school officials to host business organizations and community meetings within the school, enhancing networking, internships and job placements.

"We offer an undergraduate major in entrepreneurship, and an MBA concentration," said Finch. "We want to help students take the new business ideas developed in our classes and turn them into reality. Dedicated space for a student incubator allows them to continue business development beyond the traditional classroom and utilize faculty expertise in the early stages of the firm."

Chartered as Howard College in 1841 and currently the state’s largest private university, the school survived the Civil War, two fires and two relocations to become one of the region’s top institutions for higher education. From its start in Marion, Ala., with only 31 students, Samford serves almost 5,000 students today. The current enrollment of the Brock School of Business is just over 600 students, but when the new building opens the numbers should be closer to 650.

"It’s an exciting time for our community," said Finch. "The construction site is located just up the hill from our existing building, so all students, faculty and staff members pass the site multiple times a day. Progress is closely monitored. A building is simply bricks and mortar, but a university is about relationships and growth with people. While the structure will be impressive, the effect on the people who teach, work, and study within the building will last for generations. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to create a new culture of positive learning for the Brock School of Business at Samford University."

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