Few colleges or universities have embraced prefabrication more wholeheartedly than Valparaiso (Ind.) University. The Lutheran-based institution completed a $27 million residence hall this past summer in which the structural elements were all precast. The modular bathroom pods were manufactured in and shipped from New Jersey.
“The primary motivation for prefab was an accelerated schedule,” says Andy Frank, Construction Executive with Mortenson Construction. Much of the structural and exterior work on the 85,000-sf building was completed before the start of winter, which was critical in an area prone to blinding snowfalls fed by nearby Lake Michigan.
Manufacturing precast flooring planks and exterior panels that mimic limestone and brick masonry in a climate-controlled plant saved two to three months on the construction schedule, says Frank. The modular bathroom units, made by AmeriPOD, Dayton, N.J., shaved another month off the construction timetable of the suite-style residence hall. The time savings enabled the building to be ready for the fall 2014 semester.
FGM Architects and Mortenson collaborated on the design-build project using 3D BIM modeling to deliver a Collegiate Gothic structure that blends in with the prevailing campus architectural style. One of the critical factors in the construction process was leaving wall openings large enough for the bathroom pods to be transported from a staging area at one end of each floor through the building to their final position. Workers rolled the bathroom units through each floor to a preformed depression, where they were lowered by jacks into place.
Frank attributes the success of the prefab approach in part to the type of project. “When you have a large number of users involved in programming the building”—such as an academic building shared by multiple departments—“you’re going to need a longer design process,” he says. Housing projects tend be more suitable for prefab because they usually have a limited number of stakeholders—in the Valparaiso project, primarily residential life officials and some students.