A university committee, after submitting a series of requests for quotations, recommended three private funders for UA officials to consider. The finalists were reviewed, one was selected, and the university had the $33 million it needed to build its newest residence hall, which features 535 beds.
“It’s becoming more challenging every year … to answer demand of our students and demand of enrollment increases,” said Curtis, who has held a position at UA since the late 1990s. “We want to continue to build residence halls for our students, and we know that might be difficult now. … All of our decisions are based on customer needs, and our customers are our students.”
Finding money for massive construction undertakings in an era of austerity—especially at the state level—has proven challenging for public universities with modest endowments, Curtis said, but forgoing needed residence halls would cost UA prospective students who would visit campus and see the startling lack of dormitories.
“My philosophy is very simple: Without customers, you don’t need the campus,” he said. “Students may not keep your campus on their radar scope if they see you don’t have room for everyone. They may head off to something else that they see as better.”
Architecture with a technological twist
UA decision makers, after a thorough search for architectural firms that could complete South Hall in a 12- to 16-month window, chose JCJ Architecture, a national firm with five offices.
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The design phase began in January 2011, three months before construction began on the south end of the UA campus. Jim LaPosta, JCJ’s chief architectural officer, said the university wanted to “create a neighborhood” more than a prototypical dormitory.
LaPosta and others from JCJ designed a residence hall that matched nearby Akron buildings, considered the experience of the pedestrian walking down nearby streets, and included green space upon the school’s request.
These design plans weren’t presented on paper, however. LaPosta used a 3D architectural software called Revit, a Building Information Modeling (BIM)-based technology that lets architects give their clients a multitude of views before plans are finalized.
The computer-based approach also shows architects potential conflicts with design ideas. For example, if plumbing needs to go where a steel beam was supposed to be installed, the construction design can be altered accordingly, saving time and untold money.
Without this kind of software, builders sometimes don’t see a design conflict until construction is underway, often resulting in delays that can send the school over budget.
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