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Turner Construction’s Latest Project Will Increase Student Comfort


Turner has learned lessons on Woodlawn that it can apply to other projects.

Since Turner Construction Co. started working in Chicago in 1924, the contractor has gained extensive building experience and knowledge of the markets. This made it a good fit for Woodlawn Residential + Dining Commons, its current project at The University of Chicago (UChicago).

Located on the southern edge of the campus, the commons will cover 385,012 square feet and provide more than 1,300 students with housing. Turner started work on the project in July 2018 and will be finished this coming July.

The builder pursued the project through a partnership with Capstone Development Partners – which hired it as the design/builder – and Elkus Manfredi Architects. Turner has worked with both companies on projects worldwide, but the Woodlawn project also brings it back to UChicago, where it has built over the past several decades. 

“We are pleased to partner once again with The University of Chicago, an important client in our local market,” Project Executive Brad Carter explained in a statement, adding that Turner most recently built the college’s Saieh Hall for Economic Arts in 2014. “Their expansion of their residential facilities will help them achieve their goal of putting more students in modern, high-quality housing in their central campus.”

According to Carter, this is a high priority for the university, which has observed that where and how students live, study and connect with each other can affect their well-being and academic performance. “We’re looking forward to making their experience as comfortable and supportive as possible,” he added.

UChicago Dean John W. Boyer added that Woodlawn will foster intellectually stimulating residential environments. “Students come to The University of Chicago for a distinct style of intellectual engagement and for a particular culture of learning, but that experience should not be confined to time in our classrooms,” he asserted. “With the Commons, we will offer more high-quality resources for community living, as well as an environment that also is designed to foster personal and intellectual development.” 

Strong and Stable

When finished, Woodlawn will be a high-rise Type 1-A building that features four residential towers on a single-story podium level. Three of the towers will stand seven stories, while one will feature 16 levels.

According to the company, all four blocks will have mechanical penthouses above their highest residential floor. In addition, the structural system for each is comprised of cast-in-in place, two-way concrete slabs that are supported by concrete columns.

“Concrete shear walls provide lateral stability,” Turner says, noting that the north, south and east blocks are laterally connected at the level two slab, and its west block is isolated from others by an expansion joint.

“Belled caissons bearing on hardpan support the Commons’ columns and walls,” it says. “Columns will bear isolated caisson caps typically while walls are supported on concrete mats, spanning between multiple caissons.” 

But Woodlawn also reflects Turner’s approach to sustainable construction. According to Carter, its exterior walls are made of structural stud framing, dense glass, a self-adhered air and vapor barrier, and outboard insulation that will improve its R-value.

In addition, “Full height punched windows allow students to have access to fresh air and [the] curtain wall at the House Commons areas brings extensive light to the floors’ shared spaces,” he says, noting that Woodlawn also features rain screens made from ultra-high performance reinforced concrete panels and insulated panels.

“The structure of the exterior wall was set in prefabricated panels, which included all of the framing, insulation and substructure needed to make the building watertight when installed along the punched windows,” he adds. “This type of prefabrication allowed for the enclosure before winter of 2019.”

Connecting in the Commons

Woodlawn will offer students an array of amenities, Carter says. For example, its podium will feature study rooms, community spaces, music rooms, a package room and laundry for students, as well as separate deans’ apartments and two 2-bedroom apartments for staff members. 

In addition, the typical student floors are divided into three-floor sections known as the House Commons. “These spaces are designed to bring floors of students together to study, relax and connect,” he says.

Its second-floor podium roof also features a green space for students to meet and study. “It connects the towers of the north, south and east building as part of a student design approach,” he says.

Safe and Sound

Turner Construction coped with challenges from Mother Nature as it has built Woodlawn. Because the winter of 2018  had some of the coldest temperatures in Chicago’s history, the builder had to make sure it maintained the safety of frontline workers and the schedule of structure.

“The design/build team worked with its trade partners to develop winter weather plans that allowed the concrete structure to continue with few interruptions,” Carter describes, noting that the company also implemented its Building LIFE program. 

The program, he explains, promotes safety by using input from trade partners in the planning and execution of work. “Turner works with site supervision to coach workers and provide constructive feedback to maintain high safety standards,” he says.

Some of the other methods used by Turner to stay safe included pouring concrete decks with the use of flying forms to reduce the risk of falls. In addition, Carter says, the project team prefabricated the exterior wall, which allowed tradespeople to install portions of the wall from the inside of the building, with the protection of safety rails.

Turner also used its Ladder’s Last program, which keeps workers in lifts “instead of using ladders to prevent falls and slips when working,” he describes, noting that all workers have been required to wear cut-resistant gloves on site to keep their hands and fingers safe from cut hazards.

The company’s safety focus also began even before work started on site. “During BIM coordination, the project team identified areas where deck inserts could be used to avoid overhead hanger drilling and coordinated prefabricated MEP sections,” Carter recalls.

The Real Value

Based in New York City, Turner Construction employs a staff of 10,000 workers and stands as a leading builder in multiple market segments. The company completes $12 billion of construction work annually and has earned recognition for its work on large, complex projects.

In addition, Turner has a reputation for embracing technologies and making difference for its clients, employees and community. “Turner offers clients the accessibility and support of a local firm with the stability and resources of a multinational organization,” it says.

During its time serving clients in Illinois, Midwest Real Estate News has consistently ranked Turner as the No. 1 construction company in the Midwest. Today, “Turner employs a staff of over 215 people in our Illinois business units, and completes annually more than $750 million of construction volume,” it says.

“While we have deep national resources available to us, the real value Turner offers is people,” it states. “Our local staff build local projects. We pride ourselves on our active involvement in the communities that we call home.”

A strong future lies ahead for Turner, which has learned lessons on Woodlawn that it will be able to apply to other projects, Carter says. For example, he explains, the company learned how the use of lean and the last planner system increased productivity.

This was accomplished through prefabrication and pre-planning using technologies such as BIM. In addition, “[Our] preconstruction success with a strong team allowed the project to flow continuously without interruption,” he says.

Impactful Innovation 

Turner has nurtured a culture that places a strong value on innovation and continuous improvement. “This culture embraces emerging technologies and encourages efforts to convert new ideas into tangible results,” it says.

In addition to having a dedicated innovation department and staff, the builder notes that it is focused on increasing the rate of innovation in the construction industry and the real estate sector. “We accomplish this by investing in our staff and technical culture through programs such as the Turner Innovation Summit, the Innovation Challenge, BIM University and Advancing Lean,” it says.

The company’s yearly Innovation Summit is an internal conference that shows how it is responding to the evolving construction industry. “[It is] an industry in which an explosion of technology and data tools, lean management strategies and business process improvements are driving cost and schedule efficiencies, as well as client expectations,” Turner says.

Two-hundred Turner employees, as well as business and thought leaders, attended its fifth Innovation Summit where they presented and discussed research, exchanged ideas, collaborated and promoted creativity and continuous improvement. “Attendees learned about a variety of novel approaches and new technologies being pioneered across the company and greater AEC industry,” Turner says.

The company’s Innovation Challenge is an ongoing process of exploration, experimentation and learning. Turner explains that it features a governing structure that helps it align it with Turner’s needs and allow ideas to be adopted company-wide.

“The Innovation Challenge is an evolution of Turner’s Award for Innovation program, which generated several hundred ideas to make Turner a better company through advances in technology, sustainability, lean practices, building information modeling, safety, community engagement, learning and development, and field operations,” it says, noting that winners receive cash grants to implement their concepts.

“The organization we have responds to the enthusiasm of employees for finding and sharing new and better ways to do things,” it says. ”With tools such as the Innovation Challenge program, Innovation Summit and the oversight of our dedicated Innovation department, our employees have mechanisms, a structure, culture and incentive to accelerate improvement and innovation in an effective and impactful manner.” 

Sidebar — Local and Diverse

As Turner Construction Co. has built the Woodlawn project, it also has partnered with The University of Chicago to ensure that it is staffed by a local and diverse workforce. “For Turner’s part, we’re aligned and committed with the University’s goals of participation for minority and women-owned subcontractors,” Project Executive Brad Carter said.

“On this job, we’re seeking to engage 35 percent minority owned and six percent women-owned businesses, as well as making sure that 40 percent of the workforce live in Chicago,” he added.

Sidebar — Award-Winning Work

Turner Construction Co.’s work has earned it multiple recognitions over the years, including:
• Being named one of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in Chicago
• Being ranked the No. 1 ENR Midwest top contractor in 2019
• Being named one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation
• Ranked as No. 1 in the ENR Top 100 Project Delivery Firms
• Being named the No. 1 Healthcare Contractor by Modern Healthcare
• Being named the No. 1 General Contractor – Best of the Best by Midwest Real Estate News


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