To the layman, the term “pre-fab” in construction conjures up images of double-wide trailers, assembled with staples, plastic sheeting, and low-grade M.D.F. But the truth is that these days, computers turned that notion of “pre-fab” on its head.
Witness Valparaiso University, a little over an hour to our southeast. The college is building a new dormitory, and Mortenson Construction is assembling it largely from pre-fabricated pieces. Exterior panels, interior walls, stairwells, even entire bathrooms are being built off-site, then trucked to campus where cranes and other heavy equipment put it together like one of those giant 3D jigsaw puzzles they used to sell at The Sharper Image.
Mortenson’s PR firm sent along a press release about the project, and some pictures. Please to enjoy.
Designed to house 290 sophomores, the 85,000 square-foot residence hall will have four-, six- and eight-bed suites, with one to two bathrooms and a living room per suite. Built to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Silver energy-efficiency standards, the four-story building will have central air-conditioning, a kitchenette on each floor and three great rooms on the first floor. Construction began in July, 2013 and will be completed before students arrive for the new school year, in the summer of 2014.
“This residence hall embodies Valparaiso University’s vision for staying true to its roots while embracing the changing needs of college students. The residence hall incorporates design elements from the existing campus buildings while offering living arrangements and amenities popular with students and parents alike,” says Greg Werner, vice president and head of Mortenson Construction’s Chicago office. “It also shows the university’s far-sighted and innovative approach to construction, from creating a master campus plan in the first place to requiring architects and builders to team up on design-build proposals, which are relatively rare in higher education but offer numerous benefits in time saving, cost and quality.”
The design-build team of contractor Mortenson and architect FGM has taken advantage of the latest technology and techniques, including prefabrication and 3D modeling, to streamline construction, coordinate work and ensure high quality. Before putting a single hammer to nail, the companies resolved any structural conflicts by creating and overlaying 3D models of all systems, including plumbing, electrical and heating, as well as the architectural floors, doors, ceilings and walls.
Mortenson used building information modeling (BIM) to determine which interior and exterior walls to erect after accommodating installation of prefabricated walls, doors and bathrooms as well as fixture combinations after the building is enclosed. Also early in the process, Mortenson worked with the precast concrete contractor, which built the exterior walls of brick and precast concrete made to look like brick and limestone, by reviewing the schematic design so the exterior wall panels lined up properly with planned windows and joints.
Mortenson’s rigorous planning and attention to detail paid off during the design phase as well when it became clear that the basement excavation would compromise an information technology duct bank that ran along the property’s north perimeter. By shifting the building footprint 12 feet south, the university avoided the cost and time of constructing a barrier to shore up the IT duct bank, through which runs conduit for the campus’ Internet system, says Fred Plant, Executive Director of Capital Projects & Planning and Environmental Sustainability of Valparaiso University.
“The Mortenson team is smart, collaborative and innovative, exactly the kind of partners we want. This approach is evident in everything they do, from accelerated design and budgeting process to the suggested tweaks of the original program to allow for a fully prefabricated structure. These suggestions not only save us time and money, but they also ensure a high quality residence hall for our customers, the students.” he says.
Mortenson has completed more than $3 billion in higher education projects since 2000.