Walbridge Construction – Michigan State University Student Housing

Office Retail Tower 2Walbridge Construction is building the largest student and family housing project in Michigan State University’s history. 

By Russ Gager

The trend of encouraging students to remain in student housing is a trend sweeping the campuses of North America. But to achieve this goal, a university must provide attractive alternatives to off-campus housing. This is the goal of 300 units of new student and family housing being built in 10 buildings on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Mich., that will expand student housing by nearly 1,000 beds.

The $156 million project includes a mixed-use, five-story office building that will also house studio units and retail, and nine other three- and four-story, stick-built residential buildings with apartments to be rented by students. One building will be dedicated solely to the needs of students with families.

“Stickbuilt construction is not very common for us,” MSU Project Representative Andrew Linebaugh maintains. “The university’s division of Residential and Hospitality Services is trying to compete with developers that are building apartment buildings just off-campus. MSU is trying to keep people living on campus and enjoying the conveniences and services that come with that.”

To compete with off-campus developers, the university’s housing must meet their price points. This inspired the wood-frame construction of the university’s apartments, which are covered with economical vinyl and fiber cement siding.

The office building is constructed more to commercial standards, with structural steel construction and exterior cladding still to be determined, although it might be masonry with aluminum panels for the first-floor retail and vinyl siding above. The buildings are designed by Neumann/Smith Architecture.

The housing is being built in phases. An 880-space, precast concrete two-story garage with three parking levels is being built as part of the first phase along with family student housing and most of the sitework and underground utilities. That construction was started this past summer and the parking garage is scheduled for completion in April.

The parking garage required the use of geo-piers made of columns of aggregate sunken 10 feet to 20 feet deep to clay. “This area of Michigan is predominantly a clay-type soil,” Linebaugh observes. The garage itself was precast offsite and rapidly assembled onsite with a crane.

Phased Construction

The second phase of the project’s construction was started in February and includes the remaining apartment buildings – which are scheduled for completion in summer 2017 – and the mixed-use office building, which should be finished by fall 2017. It will include a ticket office for events along with offices for Residential and Hospitality Services, offices the athletics department and open spaces for outdoor recreation

The new housing and office building is being built on portions of an approximately 30-acre site, some of which was previously occupied by a Michigan State Police facility. Some of it was demolished before Linebaugh started on the project. The one-story buildings that were left when he joined the project were an old brick building and several stickbuilt structures, along with a former shooting range.

The university’s theater scene shop and a cold storage facility that housed some university police equipment had to be relocated from the site before being demolished. “We actually moved them relatively recently, in December,” Linebaugh says. “We had been working around them while their buildings were being built.”

Some remediation was necessary on the site. “We had some nonhazardous contaminated soils, given that this site did have old buildings on it previously that were demolished,” Linebaugh concedes. “We did find a few unknown concrete rubble piles and things like that. We had to do a little remediation with the bullets found at the bottom of the shooting wall, but it was nothing hazardous. We found lead from the bullets. We had to take some material to a certified landfill.”

Good Neighbor

Working around a functioning campus was one of the challenges of the project. “We always have to maintain safe pedestrian and vehicle access at all times,” Linebaugh emphasizes. “It’s a huge issue on college campuses – so many people are walking through the campus. We’ve had to do some work in the road right-of-way, as well.”

An additional complication is the tightness of portions of the site. “We’ve had to use some innovative procedures in phasing and installing the precast on the parking deck,” Linebaugh notes. “At one point, we were bringing in 30 flatbeds a day with precast double T-sections, but we had to stage them in such a way that we weren’t getting in big shipments and stacking them up onsite. So just-in-time delivery was important.”

To save space, construction manager Walbridge Construction has been consolidating job trailers and encouraging crews to car pool. Walbridge has teamed with Orion Construction, Grand Rapids, Mich., which specializes in wood-frame construction and multiunit housing. Building in Michigan’s winters has been challenging, compounded by the university’s aggressive construction schedule. “Right now, the big challenge is schedule and the winter weather,” Linebaugh declares. “It’s a complex project.”

Linebaugh estimates that approximately 65 subcontracting firms have worked on the project so far. “We’ve got a real good working relationship going on now with Walbridge and Neumann/Smith and their subconsultants and subcontractors,” Linebaugh reports. “For the most part, we’ve pulled from the local construction pool. Not too many people are coming from a long distance away. It’s been a good collaborative progressive project. It’s a fun project to work on. There’s a lot of very different components you could think of. It’s quite a diverse project.”

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