Embracing Change on College Campuses

From Dale Harvey, Tarlton Market Executive –

Working in the AEC industry, we regularly encounter challenges brought on from a variety of differing perspectives and interests. In my 30-plus years of work in planning, design and construction, including 14 years as an appointed owner representative for a public university, I’ve seen this play out multiple times in building higher education facilities. Therein lies one of many challenges Owners, Architects and General Contractors/Construction Managers, like Tarlton, face in the planning, design and construction delivery of cost-conscious buildings.

Higher education overall, and each institution specifically, is a business. It matters not whether they are for-profit or not-for-profit: The physical plant (set of buildings, grounds and infrastructure) ages. To remain relevant and to compete in this business, colleges and universities are always looking to re-invent, refresh and re-image their campuses. They also have other reasons to update their facilities, including solving the compounding problem of deferred maintenance.

In the advent of modernizing our college campuses with 21st Century teaching technologies, pedagogies, current space planning methodologies and energy efficiencies, to which I generally categorize as Smart Buildings, some members of the greater community have a hard time grasping that not every 1960s building was conceived, let alone built, with this mindset. What should matter most is how best to balance the cost of transformational change with the benefits it will bring to the stakeholders (students, faculty, community, etc.) who will use the facilities.

The new Center for Nursing and Health Sciences building on the Forest Park campus of St. Louis Community College is at the heart of this dilemma. The work of the stakeholders to date speaks volumes to the delicate balance of modernization with intent to maintain history. The project contemplates designing and building a modern new education facility that will immediately contribute to the improvement of health education and community-based clinical services that do not exist today.

The Chancellor, Board of Trustees, faculty and staff are embracing change as this new facility is being prepared to emerge from Dan Kiley’s (the original campus landscape architect) lawn facing Oakland Avenue. To make way for what will be a new front door to a campus that was conceived at a time when Brutalism in architecture was at its height, the plan will be to demolish a portion of the longitudinal tower building system that parallels Oakland Avenue today. These buildings, notably Towers A and B, house some of the existing allied health education classrooms, labs and offices that will soon have a new and modern feel, and the technology to match, in this new Smart Building.

It will be our responsibility as Construction Manager, in collaboration with the design team led by KAI Design & Build and others involved, to successfully deliver this project. We will keep you posted on our progress in future editions of this blog.