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University of Texas Detours Students for $517M Job

Sat April 22, 2000 - West Edition
C.J. Wright


The sign at the corner of Wichita and 27th streets warns faculty and students to drive no further. Replacing their would-be parking spaces, construction vehicles line the street and chain-link fence surrounds the left side of the block. Inside, construction equipment marked with signs claiming Bartlett-Cocke or McCarthy ownership, clang and whir, moving dirt and pouring concrete. Crews hammer and boards clap as parking garage, office building, and the Seay psychology building — all in very close proximity — begin to take shape. Like giant birds, tower cranes hold overhead vigils.

Meanwhile, campus life goes on around them as backpack-bearing students weave their way among detours delineated by orange cones and fence. One student attempts to take a direct route only to redouble his steps and find a more circuitous path. And while this student body with enrollment of 49,000 courses by, contractors and crews find their work cut out for them at the University of Texas in Austin (UT-Austin). For along with fast track projects, and tight building sites, they face the foot and vehicular traffic that this campus life generates.

As onlookers suspect, one of the largest state universities in the nation is experiencing a major building boom. In the University of Texas System’s Capital Improvement Program, a six-year plan calls for approximately $2.4 billion to be spent over 15 campuses. Updated quarterly, the latest figures approved by the Board of Regents show that the flagship campus at UT-Austin is getting the lion’s share with about a $517-million allocation. This represents its largest building boom in 25 years.

Located in the heart of Austin, the campus is expanding inward. While improving academic facilities, the plan also focuses on improving housing and parking facilities. It calls for a more friendly pedestrian zone by eliminating parking lots on campus and replacing these impervious surfaces with new construction, which preserves green space as does building parking garages on surface lots along the periphery of the campus.

New dormitories will help meet the needs of a student population where 90 percent live off campus because housing for only 5,400 beds exist on campus. The result is that most students must compete for quarters in Austin’s tight and expensive rental market.

The first signs of significant construction appeared in 1997 with the completion of the molecular biology building, a student services building, and a parking garage. McCombs Field was opened that same year. The University Interscholastic League Building and another parking garage followed in 1998. Then in 1999 one more parking garage and a track and soccer stadium were added. A chilling station was also renovated.

Currently, it would seem that all of the area general contractors and subcontractors were working, sometimes side by side, to complete five new construction projects and renovate eleven other buildings. And, at least three new projects are in the planning or design stage, with no end in sight.

At the corner of Wichita and 27th streets, Bartlett-Cocke Inc., working with design firm, Overland Partners of San Antonio, has taken on the challenge of constructing an office building, and L-shaped around its two sides with just a 46-centimeter (18 in.) space between, they are erecting a parking garage.

Project manager Brian Jones describes the $20- million project that began in August 1999. The parking garage, known as 4B is a twin to Parking Garage 4A, which his company recently completed. The garage, which should be completed by August 2000, required about 3,040 cubic meters (4,000 sq. yds.) of concrete, according to Jones. Subcontractor Rainbow Materials supplied the concrete and Capital Rentals, the pump. When completed it will have six floors with 22,860 square meters (254,000 sq/ ft.) of space, and parking for 756 vehicles.

With a completion date of March 2001, the office building will include five floors of occupying space, an attic, and basement, totaling 7,200 square meters (80,000 sq. ft.). When Parking Garage 4B joins the list of parking garages added over the last few years, parking capacity will have grown from 11,000 to 14,756 spaces.

A Cat D10 was among the heavy equipment employed when subcontractor Camp Excavation & Contracting Inc. excavated into 570 centimeters (19 feet) of rock. Jones estimated that his company will be subcontracting to about 20 companies during the duration of the project. Besides a company-owned skid steer, equipment such as scissor lifts, fork lifts, and personnel lifts are being rented from such companies as United Rentals, Equipment Depot, Caterpillar Equipment, and Hertz Equipment Rental Corp, according to project engineer Sean Stevens.

Close by and on the other side of Parking Garage 4B, McCarthy Brothers Construction Company is erecting the Sara M. and Charles E. Seay Psychology, Child Development, and Family Relationship Building, a $42-million project. Before excavation began in September 1999, two existing buildings — one a two-story white brick, the other a two-story red brick — had to be torn down.

With a projected $48.6 million price tag and a finish date of fall 2001, the building will contain 15,750 square meters (175,000 sq. ft.) of structural concrete and when completed, will rise to seven stories at its highest point. Architect Cesar Pelli calls for a red clay tile roof with brick and stone facade. Although only in the concrete-pouring stage, project manager Carl Eisenhauer said 68 subcontractors had already been brought aboard and that number is growing.

Like most work these days, his project is fast track; but Eisenhauer finds that the daily dealing with a tight site is more challenging, especially in trying to keep everything safe and functional not only for his crews but for everybody who travels around the perimeter of the site.

Paralleling Wichita Street on the opposite side of this construction block is Speedway, which runs through the heart of the campus. At Speedway and 24th Street, a crew from BPS Equipment Rental and Sales is hard at work on the new Applied Computational and Engineering Sciences Building, known as the ACES Building. The projected $30-million project is being funded by the foundation of Peter O’Donnell, UT’s biggest donor. O’Donnell leased Taylor Hall annex building that stood on this site, tore it down and replaced it with this new five-story, 14,715-square-meter (163,500 sq. ft.) structure that is larger than the first. The expectation is that this new facility will contain equipment to rival the best scientific research facilities in the country.

Continuing down Speedway and passing the future site of a new outdoor pool at Gregory Gymnasium, traffic is once again slowed by the construction at 21st Street. On the corner sprawls the three-level Jester Dining Center, which will be under renovation for the next three years. At present, Spawl Glass Contractors is finishing up on a complete gutting of the 1,800-square-meter (20,000- sq. ft.) first floor. According to regional manager Joel Stone, his company will be remodeling the floor with renovations to the mechanical electrical system, all new food and service equipment, and new interior finishes. Begun in January of this year, subcontractors that include Cobb Mechanical Contractors, Brad’s Electric, Arnold Refrigeration Inc., and 4MC Enterprises Inc. will soon come on site.

To be completed in August, this first-floor renovation and reconstruction is the first stage in a three-stage project estimated to cost a total of $7.5 million. The second stage will repeat of the first on the second floor, and the third stage will be a basement renovation.

According to Stone, the major challenge to the job is operating in an occupied building where the dining facility is in the middle of the Jester Building dormitory with offices and classrooms surrounding it.

Continuing next door on 21st Street lies the Jester Center where Stewart Motel has undertaken fire and life safety renovation by installing a sprinkler system. Begun in December of 1999, the job is expected to take a year to finish.

The site of new construction at 21st Street and San Jacinto finishes the block. Here, Hensel Phelps Construction Company oversees the building of a new dormitory to be finished in two phases, eventually providing 866 new beds. Located on Clark’s Field, this dorm will be the first built in thirty years. Begun in June of 1999, the project is being completed in two phases, with the north wing scheduled to open in July 2000 and the south side to open in mid November.

According to project superintendent Jack Atterstrom, roughly 12,920 cubic meters (17,000 cu. yds.) of concrete was used on the project, now about two-thirds complete. While his company owns some equipment such as a 40.5-metric-ton (45 ton) crane and a backhoe, much of the equipment was locally rented. Currently 350 employees are working at the fast-track site, with 60 employees being from Hensel Phelps. Subcontractors include Walker Engineering Inc. and Boyer Mechanical. The approximately $45-million project was designed by Lotti, Krishan and Short.

Atterstrom knows that a fast-paced schedule is nothing unusual these days as he faces the challenge of figuring out ways to meet goals and deadlines. When complete, the 27,000-square-meter (300,000 sq. ft.) structure will be six stories tall.

Having underbuilt for some 25 years and having kept enrollment static for the past 15 years, the UT-Austin campus appears to be making up for lost time with this flurry of construction. On a campus where foot traffic and bicycles are the most frequent forms of navigation, building density is on a steady rise, compacting the area and making pedestrian traffic even more preferable.




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