ASU Goes Downtown
The assignment: Design and build a 223,000-square-foot building with a 35,000-square-foot footprint on a parcel of land in downtown Phoenix. Give it a strikingly distinctive high-tech appearance and make sure it is energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Here's your budget. Oh, by the way, you have just 20 months to have it ready for move-in. And, since it's downtown, your access and work hours will be restricted.
That's what Sundt Construction was looking at on a Friday afternoon in October 2006. The city of Phoenix had just notified Sundt officials that they had won the contract to build the structure that was to become the new home of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and PBS Channel 8.
Kent Bosworth serves as Sundt's project director and project manager for the Cronkite Building. He says that Sundt was well aware of the tight timeline when it submitted the proposal, and the company already had its team in place and ready to start work immediately. The team included designers HDR and Steven Ehrlich and all the major subcontractors. All team members had people and equipment scheduled and prepared to hit the ground running.
On the Monday morning after the city notified Sundt of its selection, Sundt literally hit the ground at the job site. "We had our kickoff meeting October 9th," says Bosworth. "We were given a program explaining what this facility was supposed to be, and off we went."
After initiating the design phase, the first order of business involved tearing out the existing parking lot, prepping the site and setting up the site office. The site office consists of eight attached trailers with office space for Sundt, HDR and all the subs. Bosworth says that the office was set up to allow the close collaboration and strong lines of communication necessary to keep work moving at a brisk pace. "If the guy from Kearney Electric needs to clarify something with HDR, he just walks over to the HDR offices in the building. Everyone who has answers is in the building with everyone who has questions."
Bosworth says this is the first project he's been on that had such tight collaboration, but he believes it won't be his last. "This is a far more efficient way to work than the traditional hard-bid process. The architect's contract is with Sundt rather than the city of Phoenix. That puts Sundt at risk for the design as well as the construction, although the architects obviously provide their own insurance.
"Because of the pace of the project, the first thing we did was build cost models. We knew what the budget had to be, and the architect designed to that cost model. Everything was done on a systems basis, so we said we have X number of dollars per square foot for skin, X number for mechanical and so forth. We set the numbers we knew we had to meet, so we weren't arbitrarily going to areas and saying we've got a shortfall, and you have to cut down."
With the budget allocated up front to each system, the subcontractors don't have to worry about the general contractor changing the rules. Says Bosworth, "We had our mechanical, electrical and plumbing subs selected prior to our submitting the proposal. We actually did a prequalification and preselection with the primary subs. By bringing them on early, it became a design-assist. They were all involved in the design process. It was very unique for the mechanical engineer to sit right next to the plumbing and electrical contractors and talk about how we're going to design this building."
The planning included breaking the project into specific packages, according to Bosworth. "We started with a grading and drainage package. This property was an existing parking lot. We had to take that out and get our pad built. Then came the foundation package. Next came a superstructure package, a core and shell package, and finally a tenant-improvement package. We did our own site prep and our own concrete. That allowed us to control critical paths."
The building itself will have 223,000 square feet of floor space on six stories. Floor plates are about 35,000 square feet. Several hundred square feet of potential floor space in the center of level three are gone to allow a mezzanine above the main auditorium on the second level. Other than that area, ceiling height is uniform within each level. First and second floor ceilings are at 16 feet. Levels three, four and five have 14-foot ceilings. The top floor, which will house studios for the Cronkite School and Channel 8 has 26-foot ceilings.
The structure is primarily post-tensioned concrete and concrete frame, however the top floor is actually a steel frame sitting on top of the concrete structure. The first floor includes a loading ramp that slopes down 4 feet from ground level with a metal skid to make loading and unloading easy. "That saved us a lot of floor height," says Bosworth.
The room with the loading ramp is large enough to accommodate two remote satellite trucks, and the design includes wiring to allow those trucks to plug right into the building's broadcast systems.
The rest of the first floor has a room for Arizona Public Service, the electrical utility; a general entry space with stairs and elevators up, four retail spaces and some general-purpose classrooms. ASU will lease the retail space.
Levels two and three belong entirely to the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. In all, about 65 percent of the building is dedicated to the Cronkite School. The centerpiece of the Cronkite School's space is The Forum, a high-tech auditorium with seating on the second level and an overlook with room for several dozen more spectators on the level above. The Forum will become the Phoenix area's primary spot for major news conferences and press events when the building opens in August.
Levels four and six are shared between Channel 8 and the Cronkite School with both operations having their studios on the sixth floor. Level five belongs entirely to the public broadcasting operations, both television and radio. It will house control rooms, editing rooms and offices. There's a reception area next to the stairs and elevators where people can see through a glass wall directly into the master control area.
Items of Interest
The design of the new building includes some interesting touches to add to the visual impact and other ideas that add functionality. The bottom two-thirds of the building incorporate lots of glass and concrete, but that look changes dramatically on the top third. "The architect really wanted a lot of design pop in the building," says Bosworth. "The design is based on a graphic representation of the radio frequency band for the entire United States. The architect took that with all the narrow slots and colors going vertically and horizontally.
"Also, since this is a technology-oriented operation, they wanted all the satellite dishes to be exposed. That required a waiver, because the city of Phoenix requires you to screen those dishes. The satellite dishes are arranged to enhance the design."
Internally on the lower levels, the designers looked for ways to allow indirect light from outside to penetrate to the interior. The large exterior windows let profuse amounts of light into the classrooms and offices that ring levels two, three and four. Transoms above the doors to those rooms will pass light further into the building, even when the doors to the rooms are closed. Most of the walls enclosing The Forum are glass with a shutter system that closes to block outside light when necessary.
The main stairwell and elevators are at the south entrance. "On the exterior stair that faces south, we're leaving a one-foot gap between the landings and the windows," Bosworth says. "There will be an opaque structure six stories tall in that space. It will have a chimney effect, drawing air up." Inside the structure will be highly polished aluminum shapes suspended off aircraft cables and illuminated with carefully positioned lights. The rising air will cause the shapes to move and cast a dancing appearance on the opaque glass.
Obstacles and Challenges
Working in an urban setting always presents challenges with space constraints, traffic issues and noise abatement requirements. Although the Cronkite Building is only about three blocks northwest of a new Sheraton hotel, featured in the July 23, 2007, issue of Rocky Mountain Construction, the builders had to adapt to different restrictions.
The Sheraton is surrounded entirely by other businesses, and traffic flow is critical. That called for lots of night work where material deliveries would not be battling other traffic around the building. The Cronkite Building has relatively few traffic issues, but there is a sizable condominium complex just across the street to the northeast of the building. The condos are full of people who don't particularly want a lot of construction noise next door when they're home for the evening.
"We're within 300 feet of residential, so we have to abide by the work hour laws here in the city," notes Bosworth. "Depending on time of year, that means we can work 7:00 to 7:00 and only Monday through Friday. If we want to work other than that, we have to apply for a waiver, and we've done that. In the summer, we need to do our concrete pours at night. We've worked with the condos and the city, and that's generally gone well."
There may be a university somewhere in the country that doesn't care about being green, but it's not an Arizona public university. "Right now, we're tracking for LEED Silver," Bosworth states. "Our minimum was LEED Certified, and we'll have no problem meeting that. We're about three points into Silver so far.
"To reach those goals, we used lots of sun screen outside. Everything uses low VOC paint. The extensive work we've done with lighting helps too. We don't have a central plant in this building, because we get our chilled water from Northwind. That penalizes you under LEED. The central plant is where you can get a lot of your points." (Northwind is a massive underground facility that supplies chilled water and cold air to several large downtown operations, including Chase Field, the convention center and the new Sheraton.)
The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is just one part of a major expansion of the ASU Downtown Campus. There's a new twin tower residence hall going up across the street to the east, renovation of the old downtown post office to the west and new buildings for other ASU schools east of the new dorms. With the light rail line nearly ready on the west side of the Cronkite building, there's relatively little space being set aside for parking. Students attending the downtown campus will generally need to live there or use mass transit to commute.
The Cronkite Building and other new structures must be ready for use when students return for a new semester in August. Bosworth can't speak for the other expansion projects, but he says his building will be ready. "We pushed collaboration to a new level on this one," he says. "To design and build this project in less than 20 months is something. With just over a month to go, we are on time and on budget."