Building an iconic University

Building an iconic University

Rendering of Centennial Village on the Coral Gables Campus. Courtesy of Facilities Operations and Planning
By Brittney Bomnin

Rendering of Centennial Village on the Coral Gables Campus. Courtesy of Facilities Operations and Planning

Building an iconic University

By Brittney Bomnin
Project management team oversees construction of new structures and improvement of existing ones.

Across the Coral Gables and Marine campuses, the team at the Department of Design and Construction, part of Facilities Operations and Planning—under the leadership of Jessica Brumley, vice president—works diligently to manage projects of all sizes. Whether it’s launching brand new multistory structures or renovating existing spaces, these projects continue to support the evolving interdisciplinary needs of faculty and staff members and students who teach, work, and learn at the University.

Construction crews work on the Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science.

Erecting an interdisciplinary hub

Just north of the Ashe Administration Building at the end of Memorial Drive, crews have been hard at work constructing the Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science. With its completion expected in fall 2022, the six-story, 93,000-square-foot structure incorporates research and collaborative spaces and includes open, flexible labs and work areas for graduate students and principal investigators. “This building is in tune with what we’re seeing at other institutions,” said Allison Nichols, director of design and construction. “It was an exciting project to be heralding and continues to be.”

Nichols, who joined the University in February 2020, was asked shortly after the start of COVID-19 to take the lead on a number of projects, including the Frost Institute. With a background in civil engineering and decades of experience working with contractors, owners, developers, and institutions to manage all aspects of construction, she is grateful to be able to continue moving projects forward. “We’re feeling the effects of the pandemic now with escalations in cost and longer lead times for procuring materials and equipment, but we’ve managed to keep going and stay on schedule,” she said.

Part of Nichols’ role involves ensuring teams continue to abide by the University’s rules and protocols to keep everyone safe. Up next, she will continue working closely with the architect, engineer, and contractor teams that oversee the crews as they prepare for the arrival of precast panels, install drywall studs and piping, complete the roof deck, and continue on-site utility work.

Among the facility’s features, Nichols is excited about the first floor in general, which incorporates shared amenities and science on display. “For me, the evolution of laboratory space and technology is most interesting as I have worked on labs before,” she explained. “From an architectural standpoint, the great hall is going to be a cool space. And I look forward to it being utilized for many different activities.” 

Updates to campus infrastructure systems will service existing and future buildings in the area.

Laying out the groundwork 

On the opposite end of campus—where two residential colleges have provided a home for countless students over the years—the University moves forward with Centennial Village. Part of a multiyear plan to modernize campus housing, the facility will feature more than 1,700 beds for first-year students, indoor and outdoor spaces for academic and extracurricular activities, a learning hub, meditation room, and apartments for faculty and staff members. 

Before beginning construction on the next phase of the project, the team is focused on improving campus infrastructure. “Centennial Village and other planned, new facilities will benefit from dependable and efficient infrastructure systems,” said Jackie Candela, senior project manager, design and construction. During the next few months, crews will continue work that includes updating and expanding the sewer and water systems, improving information technology duct banks, and upgrading electrical utilities, which will service the buildings in the area. 

“During winter break, we repaired the culverts under the land bridge,” explained Candela, referring to an area adjacent to the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center. The land bridge will serve as an internal road, which, once completed, will operate as a fire lane and provide additional pedestrian and vehicular access across the canal. This work also involves widening the path, removing trees, refinishing, paving, and landscaping. “We are on schedule to complete the current phase of utility upgrades by the end of summer,” she added.

Candela continues working with her team to ensure the project moves forward as planned and has adjusted for challenges brought about by the pandemic. But, she remains enthusiastic. “Centennial Village is going to be a beautiful addition to our campus,” she exclaimed. “We have witnessed a campus transformation over the past few years. With this continued growth, we also continue to challenge one another, each time incorporating lessons from previous projects."

A new chiller plant will expand capacity to provide adequate cool air and water across campus.

Cooling down campus

As part of campus infrastructure upgrades, a new chiller plant under construction on the south end of campus will be able to service several buildings. Overall, this project will expand capacity to be able to provide adequate cool air and water to operate the entire Coral Gables Campus. West of the Herbert Wellness Center on the southeast corner of the intramural fields, the 6,000-square-foot plant will have three chillers located on the first floor serviced by three cooling towers on the open roof area of the building. The plant’s upgraded capacity will allow surplus chilled water to be available to support the new Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science on the north end of campus.

“Many of the buildings are interconnected,” explained Nichols. “We’re working closely with our colleagues at the wellness center to manage on-site communication.” The team is coordinating and testing utility work, including new waterlines, that had to be updated to support future facilities. By November, she expects the plant—one of six on campus—to be operable. 

The new Aerosol and Air Quality Research Laboratory will welcome researchers this summer.

Launching a new laboratory

On the Marine Campus, an existing laboratory on the second floor of the Science Laboratory and Administration Building is currently being renovated. Within the next month, equipment will be arriving at the new Aerosol and Air Quality Research Laboratory—in July it will welcome researchers from the College of Engineering, Rosenstiel School of Atmospheric and Marine Sciences, and other fields of medicine, arts, and sciences. In this new space, scientists will have access to specialized equipment and can easily collaborate and share information.

Plans for the lab renovation followed the arrival of Pratim Biswas, a world-renowned aerosol scientist and engineer who was named the new dean of the College of Engineering. Using a centralized system that distributes air to lab benches along with a central air cleaner to purify incoming streams, the lab was designed to provide a higher purified level of air to meet the research needs. Along with Biswas, Cassandra Gaston, assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the Rosenstiel School, runs a lab that will benefit from the new space, which includes fresh office spaces, new fume hoods, and other laboratory equipment.

Outdoor Adventures, Daybreak diner, and Smoothie King are among the new campus amenities.

Adding amenities to campus

Lakeside Village welcomed four new retail spaces on its first floor. Among them, two new dining spots—Smoothie King and Daybreak—joined the list of food establishments on campus in spring 2021. Through a partnership between the Department of Housing and Residential Life and the Department of Wellness and Recreation, Outdoor Adventures launched in 2020 offering adventure-based programs, services, and facilities to students, as well as the broader University community. The latest addition—Golden Touch Salon and Barbershop—will open its doors in fall 2021 and offer the University and local community hair and nail services right on campus.

“Each retail space had its own unique challenges because of COVID-19, which is why we had staggered openings,” explained Ryan Coffield, project manager, design and construction. A South Florida native and graduate of the School of Architecture, he still remembers living at Hecht Residential College as a freshman.

For Coffield, the variety in offerings for students on campus has been the most drastic change since the time he was a student. Returning to campus after being hired as an employee, he noted how impressed he was to see the retail spaces in the Shalala Student Center and is excited about the growing number of amenities. “I remember being a student and having to leave campus to do things,” he added. “Now you don’t really have to leave. This is the first time on our campus we have a retail and residential blend in one of our development projects.” By the start of the fall semester, he expects all four spaces to be operating in full swing.