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Crews Off to Fast Start on Campus Building

Wed November 24, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Dick Rohland

Construction crews got off to a fast start last May building a new, $66 million student center for the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic liberal arts school located in St. Paul, Minn.

The university straddles land on both sides of the west end of Summit Avenue, one of the city’s oldest roads shaded by a variety of trees and lined with historic homes dating back to the 1800’s.

Taking the lead in construction is Opus Design Build L.L.C. a full service real estate development company based out of Minnetonka, Minn. Opus has designed or built more than 20 buildings on St. Thomas campuses over the last 50 years.

The Anderson Student Center, named after a University of St. Thomas trustee and benefactor, will join the university’s new Anderson Athletic and Recreational Complex and the new Anderson Parking Facility as the third and final phase of the largest building project in the university’s history.

The student center will sit on land formerly occupied by a 400-car parking lot on the corner of Summit and Cretin Avenues, both city arterials and on the south side of O’Shaughnessy Stadium, a 4,500 open air home to the school’s football team.

Scheduled for completion in January, 2012, two wings will form the 240,000 sq. ft. (22,320 sq m) L-shaped student center and will face both Summit and Cretin Avenues. There will be two primary entrances; one facing Summit and the other opening to an expanded lower quadrangle that will include a plaza and connect to O’Shaughnessy Stadium and the new athletic complex.

The center will feature a 9,600 sq. ft. (890 sq m) multi purpose room, recreational space, dining facilities, bowling center, dance floor, student leadership room, lounges and offices for Student Affairs, Campus Ministry and Auxiliary Services.

A one level parking ramp with nearly 120 parking spaces will anchor the Anderson Student Center below ground.

Part of the project costs include improved signal systems and larger sidewalk quadrants at Summit and Cretin to support the expected increase in foot and vehicular traffic resulting from student activities on the main and south campuses.

And, approximately 300 ft. (925 m) of an existing underground utility tunnel will be extended to bring campus steam, condensate, gas and electric services to the new center from the main campus physical plant.

A tripling in undergraduate student population from 1,900 in 1960 to more than 6,000 today sparked the plan to build the new student center, according to Doug Hennes, vice president of university and government relations.

“The original student center, which was built in 1960, wasn’t large enough to fit the current student population,” Hennes explained. “Everything in it, including the cafeteria and the kitchen was undersized. All of that needed to be upgraded and replaced.”

Because of the size requirements of the new center, campus land limitations, the elimination of a major parking lot and out dated, crowded athletic facilities, university officials made plans to replace all three facilities and build them in three phases, according to the campus Web site.

The Anderson Parking Ramp opened in February, 2009 and the new Anderson Athletic facilities opened a month ahead of schedule on Sept. 1.

Architecturally, the three story Collegiate Gothic style exterior of the student center will feature buff colored Mankato limestone walls, cast stone accent tracery, aluminum frame windows and doors and clay tile sloped roofing to match the signature architecture of the campus.

The exterior façade will also meet strict guidelines set by the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission because the building sits within the West Summit Avenue Historic District.

’It’s a great project. It will serve the students very well,” Hennes exclaimed.

Students and staff returning to the campus in September will see a much different scene at the long time parking lot many of them used in the past. A 320 by 290 by 15 ft. (98 by 88 by 5 m) pit was dug, concrete foundation walls line the edges of the pit and ironworkers have reached the top level of the three story building that will be there new gathering spot for leisure and social activities.

Though battling rain through much of the construction season, the project is on schedule and on budget, said Joe Sonnek, project superintendent with Opus Design Build L.L.C.

Most of the pit has been dug, steel erection is more than a third complete and 90 percent of the foundation has been poured, Sonnek said.

The groundwater is the biggest issue we’re dealing with now,” Sonnek said. “We’ve hit rock in the basement. So every time you make a hole or a depression, the water filters up. It’s just an underground river below the rock.”

Because of the groundwater and the rain “we have a pump running 24 hours a day. It’s not going away by itself,” Sonnek said.

Despite the wet weather, crews have not missed any days of work.

“We’ve worked through most of the weather and only had a couple of days when the guys have worked through the rain,” Sonnek said.

When the huge bucket attached to the Komatsu excavator took its first bite into the flat tarmac of the old parking lot, it dug and dumped 4 yds. (3 cu m) of dirt with each scoop and didn’t stop until it excavated nearly 27,800 yds. (21,270 cu m) in 12 weeks.

“There were four scoops to a truck using a four yard bucket. Most of it was in sandy soil so it’s not too hard on the equipment,” Sonnek explained. “It’s not too hard on the equipment until you hit rock. Then, we put a jack hammer on it.”

The site layout and haul road are critical to keeping the project moving forward and on schedule, Sonnek said.

“The haul road is kind of the key. You need to keep the road open to prevent the trucks from jamming up,” Sonnek continued. “With them it’s all about hourly trucking time. So, the more turns you make with a truck, the more dirt you’re going to move.”

“Concrete pours are kind of tricky,” Sonnek added. “We poured 285 yards of concrete one morning in the basement. Basically, 29 trucks in four hours. That’s a lot of traffic and upward to 100 yards an hour. So, your site layout is the key to the job for concrete pours and the road is the lifeline to the job.”

Workers will pour approximately 8,700 cu. yds. (6,656 cu m) of concrete for the building.

The steel operations have also benefited from the site layout and wide haul road as well.

With approximately 10 iron workers and a Liebher 281 HC tower crane, more than a third of the steel skeleton is up.

“The steel comes in on truck loads called sequences and we try to turn a sequence in three days. So, your pretty much turning two truckloads in three days and that translates to setting about 60 to 70 pieces a day,” Sonnek said.

Eventually, 1,030 tons (927 t) of steel will be raised for the skeletal framework.

Along with the water, another challenge on the lower level is the design and construction of the foundation.

Opus Design Build L.L.C. project manager Jeff Mertens calls it a “good challenge.”

“The foundation is one that you don’t come across every day,” Mertens said. “The foundation’s design is unique due to the existing shale and bedrock; multiple size columns and footing pads. It’s a challenge but it’s a good challenge.

“Because the foundation is on rock, the footings can be smaller than your typical footings but the column sizes have such mass to them to pick up what’s above them,” Mertens continued. “The columns are huge because of the weight of the stone sitting on them.

“As you look at the building for curb appeal, there is a lot of unique architecture to it,” Mertens explained. “It all had to start at the ground with the foundation to do what we’re doing above. It’s not your everyday square box building. There is a lot of detail to it and as it goes up, you’ll see that detail.”

“The real push now is to complete the foundation. We want to get the pit backfilled before the freezing temperatures arrive,” Sonnek added.

The exterior includes 47,000 sq. ft. (4,370 sq m) of Mankato limestone, 15,500 sq. ft. (1,440 sq m) of architecture cast-stone and a lot of glass, 15,400 sq. ft. (1,430 sq m) of it.

Nearly 60 subcontractors will help out with an estimated 227,400 on-site trade worker hours going into the construction of the building. Cat, Volvo, Lull and Melrose equipment also will be on site.

According to Opus project notes, the new center will be the first LEED certified project pursued by the University of St. Thomas.

Sustainable design features include maximizing the site’s open space, water efficient plumbing fixtures, energy efficient glass, lighting control systems to reduce electrical usage and energy efficient heating and cooling systems.

As part of the effort to use recyclable material, truckers hauled the dirt, concrete and asphalt to a nearby site.

“We will use the dirt as back fill for the basement and the concrete and asphalt were crushed and will come back as recyclable gravel,” Sonnek said.

Other recyclable materials include the old metal deck, rebar, stone and recast.

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