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How Does a Civil Engineer Provide Value-Added Service to Your Higher Education Project?

Welcome to the third article in our series looking at the unique planning and design challenges associated with facilities and infrastructure projects for higher education clients. Previously, we’ve discussed the need to consider the integral role a college or university plays in the community and the permanence of expanding or renovating buildings on higher education campuses. One aspect we touched on was engaging stakeholders and partners to help projects run smoothly — including a design team with expertise that can help make projects more efficient and safer, with better outcomes for all.

As part of that design team, civil engineers bring a wide range of skills to campus engineering projects. They often have local knowledge and existing relationships with local agencies that other design professionals may not possess and can help work through the review and permitting process more efficiently. But when is the best time to bring your civil engineering partners on board? Let’s take a look.

Planning and Design for Higher Education — The Right Partners

Construction projects can have a significant impact on the communities in which they are located.  This is often magnified for institutions of higher education, where a campus might dominate an entire town, city, and even the region depending upon the scope of the institution. 

Project delivery for higher ed projects involve a large team consisting of architects, planners, surveyors, discipline engineers (including civil), landscape architects, interior specialists, and ultimately a general contractor and variety of construction trades – all working together to a successful finish.  The larger and more complex the project, the larger the group of professionals and workers.  If the project is in a smaller market area, then this often results in the project delivery team coming from a greater distance away.

In the planning and design phases of a project, this doesn’t necessarily result in a significant challenge, since many design specifications and building codes are significantly shape at the state, national, and even international levels.  By contrast, many civil engineering and surveying guidelines, practices, and requirements are affected at more local or regional levels.  Storm water ordinances, subdivision requirements, planning & zoning processes may be quite different from one municipality to another.  The same differences in approach can also be observed from one campus facilities department to another. 

Engaging with partners that are ‘closer at hand’ to a project can be more valuable when dealing with civil-site and surveying issues.  This is even more pronounced in the project’s construction phase, where the support services necessary for quality control and assurance tasks often need to be quite responsive to a contractor’s evolving schedule for critical construction activities, or the need for retesting, in order to keep delays to a minimum.  

When to Engage Civil Site Engineers

Facility managers will find value by engaging a civil site engineer early in project development. Budget constraints may make it seem more cost-effective to limit the time spent with subcontractors. However, failing to onboard a campus engineering expert could be more costly in both the short and long term.

Civil engineering partners can identify problems before they arise, making use of resources such as publicly available LiDAR images to see inside and beneath existing infrastructure and utility lines or drone technology to collect data about a site. When you work with a team that has experience designing campus renovations for higher education clients, you know that they understand the unique considerations for these types of projects and can help streamline and troubleshoot your project early on. This improves the efficiency of your project, identifying cost drivers and maximizing the available space or existing building work with the aid of specialist guidance.

Advantages of Early Intervention From Civil Engineering Experts

As we’ve already mentioned, one primary benefit of getting your civil engineering partner onboard early is to ensure issues don’t arise later that could delay or even halt work. Another key point is that employing the same experts throughout gives you a consistent approach to tasks such as boundary surveys and basemap production. This avoids the potential of having plans drawn on mismatched datums from one project to another or even confusion caused by differing symbology.

Campus engineering often involves dealing with an accumulated concentration of underground utilities, plus historic lot lines and unclear real estate parcel splits. Many campus structures build out their underground utilities over time. This results in a highly complex system of moving parts. It’s invaluable to have a civil engineer who understands what utilities are critical and have to be moved outside the building footprint and which can be abandoned and removed.

ES&S provided a range of site planning and design services in the multi-year process of project development for a new, four-story academic and residential facility in the heart of Columbia College’s flagship campus.  A complex network of utilities was concentrated within the building footprint, requiring precise and detailed utility mapping to avoid conflicts during construction and design of numerous relocations to prevent future O/M challenges.  Forward-thinking by the College’s facilities department had provided for a storm water management master plan completed by ES&S in the early 2010s that accounted for the new impervious surface area created by the project, allowing surface runoff to be conveyed to underground detention facilities that had been constructed to achieve compliance with City of Columbia storm drainage ordinances in a more efficient, regional approach rather than building small detention facilities on an individual project basis.

Other subsurface considerations include unexpected ledges of rock, an understanding of soil characteristics, and previous construction that may interfere with the new designs. A preliminary investigation into subsurface conditions on a site can inform the entire layout of the project plan. For example, parking lots and walking paths can be inserted into areas with unsuitable subsurface conditions and materials, so teams can make full use of the space while also avoiding construction delays from trying to establish a foundation in problematic areas. This is yet another reason why it’s critical that you work with a trusted partner who can come on board at the earliest opportunity to support the best outcomes for your project and your higher education clients.

Look out for the fourth article in our series about campus engineering, where we’ll explore exactly how civil engineers can bring value-added service to higher education construction projects. Contact us here at ES&S with any questions about the topics in this article or for more information on the expert civil engineering services we offer. 

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