Fowler & Hammer Inc. – University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Science Labs Building

Fowler and HammerExceeding expectations while operating in a safe environment is top of mind for Fowler & Hammer Inc. as it completes the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Science Labs Building.
By Bianca Herron

Fowler & Hammer Inc. strives to bring innovation to every project by utilizing the latest in construction technology. The La Crosse, Wis.-based company’s most recent project for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is no exception as new Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is being used for the majority of the Science Labs Building’s interior construction. This allows Fowler & Hammer Inc. to analyze constructability while efficiently planning and coordinating jobsite activities with trade contractors.

“As a general contractor, we do things the right way,” Vice President and COO Eric Lehmann says.  “We don’t cut corners. I know a lot of contractors say that, but we truly don’t. We want to build our projects right the first time by offering exceptional quality and value.”

Fowler & Hammer Inc. broke ground on the 192,585 square foot building in July of 2016.  The project will be built over two phases and feature four floors, a full basement and a 12,000 square foot mechanical penthouse. The building will serve as a complete replacement for the existing Cowley Hall of Science. “The first phase includes the design and construction of the initial building on the site of an existing parking lot immediately north of the Cowley Hall of Science,” Lehmann says.

“The first phase of the project is lab focused,” says Valentine Schute, principal of the design firm for the project, River Architects Inc. “Due to the urgent need of new science labs on campus, the university made that a top priority,” he explains. “It wasn’t an easy decision.  We collaborated with an expert in the field of science and the idea of having a building filled with labs without any office support or non-lab classrooms is very unusual. It’s this approach that makes the first phase very unique.” fowler hammer box

The second phase of the project includes the demolition of the existing Cowley Hall of Science building and the construction of a new, 148,000 square foot building to accommodate office and support spaces. “Each building will be ‘L’ shaped and when all phases are complete, it will look like a ‘U’ shaped building,” Schute says. “The open space to the south created by the ‘U’ shape will contain a courtyard.”

The estimated completion date for phase one is July of 2018. Currently, the start date for phase two has not been determined. “Although the university wanted phase two construction to immediately follow the completion of phase one, that may not be possible,” Schute explains. “Phase two falls within the often debated Governor’s budget so we’re waiting for a legislative answer as to when it will begin.”

Until the university receives the green light for phase two, faculty will be able to use the existing Cowley Hall of Science for office support.  “When phase two begins, Cowley Hall of Science will be demolished and a relocation space for faculty will be established,” Schute says.

Making It Happen

The new Science Labs Building will have instruction space containing certain building features not normally found in academic buildings.

“We are using a concrete structure to minimize vibrations in the lab research portion of the building,” Lehmann says.  “Other specialty rooms such as cold and cadaver rooms will also play a critical role in how we construct the facility. Each room is interesting because of the unique requirements of a university level science facility.”

River Architects Inc. chose to collaborate with SmithGroupJJR because of their specialized expertise in designing science related facilities.

“The campus let us create what I call an industrial aesthetic, or loft-style building, in that ceilings vary between exposed, dropped and cloud-like designs,” Schute explains.  “So the structure, such as pipes, wiring, cable trays and sprinkler systems are exposed in order to save costs. It’s a unique design as most science buildings utilize a finished look. We’re letting the raw look of technology prevail.”

One of the challenges associated with the project thus far has been ensuring that all material and equipment are placed properly within a limited space.

“We are trying to fit the project within an existing parking lot,” Lehmann says. “There’s not a lot of extra space when you have a concrete structure of this size. Figuring out the day-to-day logistics such as material and crane placements can be challenging.

“That’s why scheduling is such an important part of this project,” he continues. “Our Site Superintendent, Jim Canar keeps in close contact with the university, which helps with scheduling strategy and large material deliveries. Our field staff also holds daily crane delivery meetings to coordinate future jobsite activities and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Working Together

With more than 200 tradespeople on-site at the peak of construction activity, Lehmann notes that collaboration is very important in order to maintain a safe jobsite. “Our Safety Director walks the job at least once per week,” he says. “The success of this project has certainly been a collaborative effort between all parties involved [and] jobsite safety is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“Extensive pre-planning of jobsite safety strategy is extremely important,” he continues.  “Each floor is a bit different and trying to use the same safety practices throughout the entire building isn’t possible.”

Fowler & Hammer Inc. has previous experience working with the majority of subcontractors associated with this project. “This has created a collaborative environment in which all parties understand what is needed for a successful project completion,” Lehmann notes.

“Additionally, having River Architects Inc. located within a few blocks from our company headquarters makes a tremendous impact on the ease of communication when addressing jobsite challenges,” he concludes. “The ability to converse face-to-face streamlines communications while improving project management efficiency.”

Current Issue

Check out our latest Edition!


alan blog ct

Contact Us

Construction Today Magazine
150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 900
Chicago, IL 60601


Click here for a full list of contacts.

Latest Edition

Spread The Love

Back To Top