Integrated Transformation for a Growing University

Earlier in this decade, the campus of Lewis University in Romeoville, IL, (about 30 miles from Chicago) would have been readily recognizable to the hundreds of Navy flight instructors who trained there in World War II. Today, they might have a hard time getting their bearings.

Since 2004, Lewis University has built three new residence halls, provided an addition to its landmark Sancta Alberta Chapel, and upgraded and expanded spaces in other buildings. Design has begun on the $15M LEED-certified science building, the largest project in the school’s history. Other projects in the works include a fourth residence hall and additions to the nursing school, cafeteria, and fine arts building. By the time everything is done, Lewis University will have completed eight construction/renovation projects in a span of less than 10 years — an ambitious undertaking for a private, independent university with an enrollment of 5,800 students.

The challenge of managing so many projects can be daunting. Deadlines are hard and fast; a residence hall, for example, must be ready when fall classes start. Renovations cannot be too disruptive to everyday campus life or classroom instruction. Projects overlap, with as many as two to four in development at the same time. Each requires coordination between school executives, architects, construction managers, civil engineers, landscape designers, municipal officials, and others. To keep everything on track during its growth spurt, Lewis University selected Wight & Company, based near Chicago, to provide integrated delivery, a method that harnesses project leadership from a single firm that has “integrated” design and construction professionals. This approach allows for “real time” estimating during the design phase. The value to the University is a team accustomed to working together to achieve a shared goal — quality design, delivered on time and on budget.

Traditional Values With a Modern Sensibility
Founded in 1932, Lewis University is a dynamic, coeducational school where the traditions of liberal learning, values, and preparation for professional work come together. It is sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, an international Roman Catholic teaching order, and offers nearly 80 undergraduate majors and programs of study, 22 graduate programs, and certificates of advanced study.

Since its origins as a pioneer in aviation education, Lewis University has been unafraid to change with the times while maintaining its high standards of quality education. It has been cited as one of the best colleges in the Midwest region for the last five consecutive years by both The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report, and is included in the top tier of U.S. News and World Report’s rankings in the best of Universities-Master’s in the Midwest. Its programs have attracted international students from nearly 30 different countries, and its enrollment has increased by 35 percent since 2004.

“Our growth is reflected not only in increased enrollment, but also in new and enhanced academic offerings, quality gains, and diversity of various kinds. Current educational programs are being enriched, new and appealing degrees are being developed, and demonstrable student learning outcomes are ever more evident,” commented University President Brother James Gaffney, FSC.

The University’s building projects reflect its forward-looking vision and commitment to traditional, community-centric values. Its first two new buildings, the Pope John Paul II (2005) and Mother Teresa Residence Halls (2006), have a classic, timeless design that fits comfortably with the campus’s older buildings, yet offer modern amenities (e.g., cable TV and Internet technology wired and wireless in every room) that appeal to young students.

The recently completed Dorothy Day Residence Hall incorporated sustainable strategies and the latest design trends, such as having classroom space inside the building. This gives the students a stronger sense of community while providing opportunities for larger, secure study areas or group work.

The addition to the Sancta Alberta Chapel was designed to expand the student ministry program at Lewis. A cloistered courtyard links the new addition to the existing chapel in a manner that respects and complements the historic structure. Constructed of matching brick and stone accents, the new addition blends architecturally with this iconic chapel’s mid-century style.

Benefits of Integrated Delivery
With multiple projects on tight, firm deadlines, it was essential for the designers, construction managers, sub-contractors, and engineers to function as a seamless team working from the same playbook. The only way to achieve this cohesion for Lewis University is through integrated delivery (IPD). Instead of having “silos” of responsibilities, as in conventional design-bid-build project delivery, everyone on an integrated delivery project has a mutual responsibility to help one another meet the owner’s goals.

A key to success for IPD is involving all parties on a project as early as possible in order to take advantage of their collective expertise. Wight began its work at Lewis University by formulating an extension to the existing campus plan, establishing a new student residential village to anchor the south end of campus.

The design and construction teams worked with Robert DeRose, Lewis University’s vice president for business and facilities, to identify potential obstacles and adjust plans, schedules, and other details as needed. The team continues to have weekly meetings to track progress, raise concerns, and share insights on how to apply lessons learned to improve future projects.

The fundamental advantage of this integrated delivery approach is that it aligns participants’ and owners’ interests to make better buildings. By fostering collaborative rather than adversarial relationships, integrated delivery also lowers costs, reduces waste, improves speed and efficiency, and facilitates problem solving. For example, construction on the school’s Dorothy Day Residence Hall started later than anticipated because a property easement had to be clarified. Even with this delay, the hall was ready to open in August of 2009 for the fall term.

The collaborative mindset underpinning the integrated delivery methodology encourages creativity. To help refine Lewis University’s master plan, Wight brought in experts from outside of the company to provide a fresh perspective. For the renovation of the Sancta Alberta Chapel, Wight utilized their in-house interiors group for design, furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) specifications and procurement services. This advance planning and the integrated delivery process enabled the team to complete the chapel renovation in just six weeks.

University Science Building: Looking to the Future
The capstone of Lewis University’s building projects will be its new science building, a 50,000-sq.-ft. addition with 12 laboratories for biology, chemistry, and physics. Prominently located near the campus entrance, this state-of-the-art facility artfully borrows design elements from the old science building while making a bold visual statement that positions the school as an innovative, 21st-century university.

As part of the integrated delivery process, which emphasizes comprehensive, upfront planning, design documents were developed using Revit, a cutting-edge technology that incorporates Building Integrated Modeling (BIM) to simulate the built environment. This digital modeling enables project participants to evaluate and coordinate activities regarding systems, materials, constructability, and other details during the design process. The technology also enables architects to create detailed drawings, such as 3D views of the laboratories with millwork, which can be quickly rendered, reviewed, and modified.

Sustainability, both in practice and the curriculum, has become integral to modern education from kindergarten to college. Although all Lewis University’s new buildings have green elements, the science building is the first on campus to be registered for LEED certification. It will feature natural landscaping and high-quality, durable materials while incorporating sustainable best practices during construction. A 2009 study found that integrated delivery methods are superior in achieving or exceeding LEED certification goals.

The new science labs will also have more space plus windows to let in natural daylight, which brightens the rooms and helps lower energy costs. Research areas will support both student and faculty development, while the student commons and informal gathering spaces will encourage group study and socializing.

Final Word
Design and construction projects of this scope and duration require careful planning, constant attention, and the flexibility to adapt on the fly to ever-changing situations. Thanks in large part to our use of the integrated delivery methodology, the renovations and new buildings are proceeding according to plan and budgets. The transformational changes not only are enabling Lewis University to accommodate growth, but also enhance students’ learning opportunities and enrich their educational experiences. As Brother Gaffney has commented, “The high quality of the buildings and their environmentally superior design are a great source of pride for our campus community.”

Mark Wight is the chairman and CEO of Wight & Company — a leading architecture, engineering, and construction company based in Darien, IL. Wight’s portfolio contains more than 30 LEED registered or certified projects, and the firm employs more than 60 LEED Accredited Professionals. Mark Wight can be reached at [email protected]