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How — And When — to Engage Civil-Site Engineers in the Higher Education Environment

Welcome to the second article in our five-part series focusing on planning and design solutions for higher education clients.  

Leading the Way in Compliance

College campuses and K-12 schools were among the first industries to focus on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Being involved with serving educational institutions, ES&S developed a keen understanding of issues that impact ADA compliance, paying careful attention to available survey data — notably, how vital it is to provide design details that support the construction of walkways, paths, and building access points to meet ADA requirements to avoid the potential of removing or altering new construction that is outside acceptable tolerances. This served ES&S well as the emphasis on ADA compliance became a more significant focus for clients within many other industries. 
Focusing on improving the community's experience through campus engineering also means moving away from facilities centered solely around cars, bicycles, pedestrians, and public transport. These are vital considerations when engineering for higher education clients. We have already looked at the importance of road safety around a campus, but making the whole area accessible for buses and bikes as well as the inevitable foot traffic is essential. 

Creating Naturally Inclusive Educational Environments

The best educational environments incorporate layout and design elements that promote ease of navigation and accessibility to the broader community being served.
Planners and designers follow guidelines from federal and state agencies to aid them in creating inclusive campuses. The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design lay out requirements for construction projects that significantly impact design to provide accessibility throughout the facility and the building site. For a civil engineer, this involves providing “pedestrian accessible routes” along roadways, from parking lots to buildings and facilities, and along trails and recreational areas. Civil engineers can go beyond the basics to develop facilities for colleges and universities that are compelling and appealing places to learn and work — for everyone.

As a firm with a civil engineering focus, ES&S engages with these issues in various ways in our projects. Work on the Columbia College North Quadrangle Initiative helped create a beautiful outdoor area in the middle of campus for students to gather, study in the shade, or have lunch. ES&S provided site grading, sidewalk, and plaza design to support the accessibility goals for the students, faculty, alumni, and public that would be drawn to this beautiful new campus destination. These essential outdoor design components allow for easier pedestrian traffic flow and create more options for movement around campus regardless of student ability. ES&S engineers also spearheaded improvements to drainage systems and permeable pavement design implementation for efficient stormwater run-off management. 

Beyond the Campus

When working with higher education clients, there are several core areas to account for — including the infrastructure surrounding the campus itself. Roads, utilities, and walkways require attention to mitigate safety concerns from adverse weather conditions, high amounts of daily vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and other factors. 

The staff at ES&S utilize their decades of experience to plan and design reliable infrastructure for campus environments. One example is the College Avenue Safety Enhancement (CASE) Project, for which ES&S provided design services to upgrade a segment of College Avenue along the east side of the University of Missouri campus. Studies had shown that very high numbers of students crossed this five-lane thoroughfare at various times of the day.  Often they had to stop in the middle turn lane and wait for a gap to cross the lane in the opposing direction – a major safety issue. This crossing was even more challenging for students in wheelchairs, using other mobility aids, or those easily overwhelmed by crowds and heavy traffic. 

The addition of new mid-block pedestrian crossings, in combination with restricting access to channel pedestrians to the new “HAWK” signalized crosswalks, reduced risks and made the entire corridor more accessible and less stressful for thousands of students. When users of the corridor expressed concerns about the look of this new median element, the joint stakeholder agencies (city, campus, DOT) stepped up to enhance project aesthetics and show context sensitivity by emulating the white stone facades of the campus buildings along the corridor and identifying with the University. 

K-12 Solutions 

The importance of proper site planning and design extends beyond college campuses to all levels of education. K-12 institutions have equal responsibility to comply with ADA standards; the forethought of an experienced site planner/designer is essential to making this happen for the sake of student safety and accessibility, and results in more efficient long-term maintenance and potential for expansion. 

Many K-12 projects involve components built in close proximity to one another that occupy large amounts of space in order to function, such as athletic facilities. ADA compliance becomes challenging within projects that are spread out over large areas because they generally don’t start out completely flat.  A well-thought-out grading plan can greatly assist the engineer as they later design pedestrian paths that have tight tolerances for slope, landing geometry, and other details. For example, during the project development of the New Battle High School in Columbia, ES&S worked to avoid the need for costly switchbacks, inefficient grading plans, or change orders during construction by accounting for ADA compliance associated with different building and facility layout options before the job exited the planning stage. This project also incorporated many “low-impact development” (LID) practices. Curbless paving and grass swales were used throughout the site to capture surface flow from parking lots and roof drains. Flows were conveyed to a variety of stormwater detention and retention facilities and water quality features to allow storm run-off time for deposition of solids, and species of vegetation were incorporated to encourage nutrient uptake as flows work their way through the site. 

In our next article, we’ll take a look at the best ways to engage civil-site engineers in the higher education environment. In the meantime, if you seek more information about our planning and design services through construction support of higher education facilities, contact ES&S and speak to a member of our dedicated team.

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