Lessons Learned from Post-Secondary Construction
How Richland Community College Upgraded Their Campus With the Least Amount of Down Time
It was about time. And Greg Florian knew it. He’s in and out of retirement now, but during his time as Vice President for Finance and Administration at Richland Community College, he could see the building was showing its age.
Their campus was built in 1988 and since then a lot has changed. The way schools are created, the way classes are taught, and the way technology is used. Richland was looking at a challenge that institutions across the country are facing. Aging campuses need to update in order to stay relevant.
“A lot of the (K to 12) schools, because of the funding here in Illinois, have really good newer buildings and lots of remodeling,” says Florian.
Project architect Bruce Maxey of BLDD Architects Inc. sees that too.
“Those facilities are all being upgraded, so colleges and universities almost have to follow, because nobody's going to want to go from a newly renovated, high-end, modern facility and go backwards when they go to college,” says Maxey. “So, for colleges to be able to attract students, they need to keep up with the work that’s being done in their immediate area.”
It was also about timing.
Modernizing the campus to stay competitive was one part of the plan. The other part was finding a way to update existing spaces as quickly as possible. If a space is under construction, it’s not serving students. Like so many other schools across the country, Richland was looking for a way to complete a campus upgrade with the least amount of downtime. In this case, they were looking to relocate the science labs closer to the nursing education area and then retrofit the old science labs into active learning spaces.
Florian and Maxey knew from experience that the DIRTT Construction System could help streamline their schedule. Back in 2017, Richland had updated The Carroll Center for Innovative Learning in just seven months. DIRTT can compress construction schedules because elements of the space are precision-manufactured in a controlled factory while the job site is being prepped for installation. Thanks to modular assemblies, glass and solid walls, casework, and electrical systems can be quickly assembled on-site, saving considerable time.
For this new project, Richland planned to use DIRTT again.
Back to School Faster
The first step was to prep the existing building. In June 2020, they drilled into the floor slab to accommodate the electrical and plumbing requirements of the science labs.
“Once the demolition was done… the construction from that point on became very simple because you have a large open space. You put your floor tile in, you put your ceiling tile in and then it's just a matter of standing up the DIRTT frames,” says Maxey.
“We really like the speed and access the DIRTT product gave us,” says Florian. “It goes quickly, so we lost just a minimum of instruction time. That was really key to get these spaces opened back up.”
With the new science facilities and nursing sim labs open to students after two semesters of construction, Richland turned their attention to the upper wing that used to house the science department. Without intensive work on the floor slab, this renovation moved even faster. In June 2021, they started work. DIRTT’s prefabricated approach didn’t just speed up installation of the new active learning spaces. The quick, quiet installation ensured the students working in adjacent areas weren’t disturbed during the process.
“Because of the speed that (DIRTT) goes in, we were using other spaces…. If you have traditional stuff you would be shooting nails into on the floor. Then you got people below you have to worry about when we have all the noise that goes with it. (With DIRTT) once you get the demo done, it's a fairly quiet operation to put everything back together,” says Florian. “So, you're not disrupting classes.”
“We weren't worried about drywall dust or the sound of screw guns and installing the drywall and those kinds of things. It was very clean. That helps to schedule. It certainly helped the college by making it livable while it was going on,” says Maxey.
In the end, DIRTT helped Richland meet their aggressive schedule goals.
“We opened it up (for the) spring of 2022,” says Florian. “We remodeled about 24,000 square feet and we only lost one semester.”
New and Improved
With the new spaces open for use, Florian noticed that students and faculty responded much like they did after the first construction project in 2017.
This new round of construction built on what Richland did the first time. Instead of 4” Solid Walls between classrooms, a 6” Solid Wall assembly was used. This made installation and maintenance of technology in the walls that much easier. There was more room to mount displays and more room to run cable. It also allowed them to add more insulation behind the displays, reducing room-to-room sound transfer. This provided technology-enabled spaces where students could truly communicate without distraction.
“The other piece was just the flexibility to change the space around incorporating student space, casual spaces, adjacent to learning spaces,” says Florian. “That was one of the things that we’ve been trying to do for a long, long time.”
On an aesthetic level, Maxey and Florian worked to elevate the design. Applied graphics offered pops of color, angled wall panels created dynamic lines, and DIRTT Timber was used to recontextualize exterior spaces on campus.
“As part of this project we added access and completely renovated two of the areas to give them some outdoor space that could be used as a potential classroom on a nice day, and also just use for general recreation,” says Maxey.
The end result was a campus upgrade that made good on Richland’s promise of student-focused learning. These are rooms that both teachers and students respond to. And they’re the classrooms that fill up first.
“Especially at this level of education, traditional students are transitioning out of high school,” says Maxey. “They’re transitioning from being with their parents to being on their own. I think it's important that the college that they go to supports them both mentally and educationally, and that the facilities kind of reflect that care.”
“We’re helping people change their lives and that's a pretty important thing,” says Florian. “We need space to resemble that. This is an important space. It’s important that it looks right.”
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