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3 College Campus Construction Trends Planners Will Love

Muhlenberg College

They say the work of a campus and facilities planner is never done — and with the National Center for Education Statistics projecting U.S. undergraduate enrollment to increase to 19.6 million students by 2024, they may just be right.

But that’s why it’s imperative to stay on top of current campus construction trends. With each new generation of students that enroll, campus design needs and expectations evolve.

According to Margie Simmons, former CEO of SHW Group LLC, “There is competition for the best and brightest students, and one of the ways to attract them is to offer the type of housing and student life they desire.”

Daniel Beyer, Senior Associate at Continuum Architects + Planners, agrees. “Colleges are placing a high value on constructing buildings that will aesthetically enhance their campuses and contribute to the student atmosphere.”

With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of our top three college and university campus construction trends for your consideration.

Sustainable design

“Healthy and sustainable. That’s the new ‘it’ when talking about campus facilities,” says Roger Smith of BBS Architects.

In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council reports that the number of building projects registered for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification now accounts for one-third of all new construction—a remarkable increase from the two per cent reported in 2005.

“We see campuses not inquiring about sustainable buildings, but instead requiring sustainable buildings,” says Beyer.

Campus sustainable design “represents an opportunity to make a long-lasting positive impact,” says Raimund McClain, architect at McCLAIN +YU Architecture & Design, “not only in terms of energy efficiency, but also in terms of greater degrees of student satisfaction, longer lasting buildings and reduced maintenance costs.”

Adaptive reuse

Christian Sottile, Dean of the School of Building Arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), claims adaptive reuse is far more sustainable than brand new college construction projects. “The data [confirm] that a new high-efficiency building can take between 10 and 80 years just to meet the baseline of environmental damage caused through demolition and rebuilding.”

Since being founded in 1978, SCAD has repurposed scores of historic buildings in Savannah, totaling over 185,805 square miles of real estate.

“These places, with their own deep histories, live on while our students write new chapters today,” Sottile added.

Modular, off-site building

Modular campus construction isn’t what it used to be.

“Modular can be concrete and steel,” says Jim Snyder, Director of Operations for Warrior Group Construction. “It doesn’t have to look like an 8th-grade science class.”

“They aren’t the trailer park or doublewides that come to mind when you think of modular,” says David Rabold, who has first-hand experience with campus off-site construction as Capital Projects Manager at Muhlenberg College.

“If you went by the building, you couldn’t tell it was a modular building,” says Rex Bercot, Building Superintendent at the University of Saint Francis. “I’d bet you $100 that you couldn’t tell.”

But from a campus planning and design standpoint, aesthetics aren’t the only appeal of campus modular construction. Ninety per cent of construction and material storage occur in a controlled, off-site environment, providing better quality control over materials and construction.

Modules can be added, taken away or transported to new locations, making modular campus construction highly adaptable and scalable. Modular design is an excellent companion to adaptive reuse, allowing older buildings to be modified and added to with minimal site disruption. Since off-site campus construction takes place at the same time as on-site development, the duration of modular college construction projects can be cut by as much as 50 per cent.

Speed is the big gain, especially on university campuses where the off-season for students offers a short construction window. “What wows people about pre-manufactured is that you go from a blank slate to a finished project very quickly,” says John Dolan, a project executive with the Skanska construction firm.