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Balfour Beatty Construction

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Innovation Village is an area of the Boca Raton, Fla., campus of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) that is living up to its name in the construction of two new residence hall buildings. The $66 million project is being developed for FAU by a partnership of Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions and Capstone Development Group. It consists of two student housing buildings – one seven-story and one eight-story – that utilize several innovative construction techniques, among them prefabricated bathrooms, LEED status and completing 100 percent of a model unit before additional units were built.

The two U-shaped buildings – which face each other to create a secure courtyard – will include approximately 500,000 square feet with 375 apartment-style units designed to house 1,216 students and staff. Each of the two- or four-bedroom units in the privately financed and managed structures will have a living room, a dining area and a full kitchen along with private bathrooms.

The courtyard will feature a swimming pool, sand volleyball courts, a covered area to store bicycles and barbecues. Also included in the 11-acre site will be wireless Internet access, a security access system, on-site parking, fitness and conference rooms and computer labs. Con­struction of the buildings began in March 2010 and is scheduled for completion in July 2011 to be ready for students in the fall semester of 2011.

“It certainly is quite an undertaking to dev­elop a site and construct nearly 500,000 square feet in the 16-month time frame,” Project Man­ager Garret Southern asserts. Another chall­enge is the location of the project at the intersection of four-lane roads with medians and the campus’s main looping road. The construction site is next to Palm Beach State College and across the road from the university’s police dep­artment. A nearby airport necessitates careful crane use, including the placement of warning lights atop them.

“We’re sitting in the middle of a live, active campus putting in $66 million worth of work,” Southern points out. “We have 15,000-plus students a day coming in and out of this campus at the perimeters of this job site. So we have a lot of traffic around its perimeter. Some of it is cars; some of it is golf carts; some is bikes; and some of it is people walking, or riding skate­boards. Containment and separation of construction activities from the public is essential.”

Secured Access

Security is tight at the fenced-off site to prevent students from accidentally intruding into it or seeking a shortcut through the campus. Appro­priate construction attire and valid security bad­ges are required to gain access. Material de­liv­eries are coordinated with peak campus traffic times. Cleanliness on the site is taken seriously.

“We cannot allow a truck to drive off the site and drag a couple little pebbles into the road, leaving the potential of a student riding a skateboard to have an accident because he hits the rock,” Southern postulates. “That sort of detail must be accounted for so that we maintain zero harm to the public.”

Balfour Beatty is functioning on the site as the construction manager and will supervise a total of approximately 35 to 40 subcontractors and up to 500 tradespeople daily during the project’s duration. The structures are tunnel-form concrete with the tilt walls cast on site.

“Once the structure is up, those panels are lifted off the ground and into place,” Southern explains. “We have some seven and eight-story concrete wall panels with window openings al­ready in them.” Once in place, roofing is placed, windows are set, and the walls painted.

The buildings’ site, which was an overflow parking lot, had its sandy soils compacted through vibro-compaction. In this process, a two-ton vibrating device was dropped repeatedly by a crane to depths of up to 40 feet to improve the bearing capacity of the upper surface of the existing soils. “As the crane pulls the vibrator out of the ground, densification of the soils at depth occurs, thereby in­c­r­eas­ing the bearing capacity of the soils,” Southern relates.

Prefab Bathrooms

With 375 units, more than 700 bathrooms were required for the project. “Because they’re all apartment-style units and there is repetition, we have only a few different styles of bathrooms,” Southern relates. “So we prefabricated all the bathrooms (PODs) in a factory setting.” The company that manufactured them shipped them on trucks to the site. There they are slid off the trucks and loaded onto a platform. A crane then lifts them to their destination in the building, which has no exterior or interior walls installed yet.

“These PODs come shrink-wrapped, so they are protected from the weather,” he says. “As we go up with the concrete structure, we slide these bathroom PODs that are shrink-wrapped into the building. Then we close in the building, dry in the roof and caulk the windows. Once the building is dry, we pull the shrink wrap off these bathrooms and slide them into their final connections point on rollers, at which point we make five connections: water, sewer, electrical, mechanical and fire sprinkler.”

This speeds construction and significantly reduces the amount of punch list work. “The majority of punch list work is typically within the bathrooms,” Southern maintains. “The amount of waste can almost fit in your hands, which significantly minimizes construction debris and expedites construction in the field. At the end of the day, it helps streamline the process and gives the owner a quality product.”

Model Unit

The structures were built in three sections, so crews rotated from section to section. “While we were still building the structure over in the third area, in the first area we were able to put a finalized mockup unit in, so the owners and end-users could walk into this unit and look at the carpet, wall finishes, cabinetry – everything was 100 percent in that room,” Southern rem­em­bers. “This allowed them to make final decisions before we ran through 375 units.” It en­abled a change to be made in the flooring be­fore the other units were built, eliminating the possibility of regret.

Aiming for LEED Silver certification, the buil­dings have abundant daylighting and use low volatile organic compound products and Forest Stewardship Council wood, along with recycled materials. The two sister buildings were started within approximately three weeks of each other.

“Time-saving lessons learned on one roll over to the other – it also creates a little bit of friendly competition,” Southern concedes. “We be­l­ieve in the end not only are we giving the own­er a more timely product, we’re giving them a better quality product.”