F.A. Wilhelm and BSA LifeStructures Overcome Logistics Challenges to Build Purdue's $79M Wilmeth Active Learning Center
Purdue University's $79 million Wilmeth Active Learning Center brings six engineering and science libraries from the edges of the West Lafayette, Indiana, campus to the center, integrating with innovative classroom spaces for a new style of collaborative learning.
Although that innovation in the heart of campus benefits students and the university, it created numerous logistics and safety challenges for the project's general contractor, F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co., Inc., of Indianapolis. To overcome the hazards of constant pedestrian traffic, a tight site, and a lack of access roads, Wilhelm and their subcontractors planned for on-time deliveries of materials on an as-needed basis. A robust safety program ensured the well-being of students and construction crews.
Designed by BSA LifeStructures of Indianapolis, the new 164,000-square-foot building features 27 active learning classrooms, library/information services, formal study spaces, collaborative work areas, informal learning spaces, and the newest technologies. Construction began in June 2015 and wrapped up on time in March. The university is now moving people, furniture, and equipment in preparation for the building's official August opening.
Constant Traffic, Cramped Spaces
Construction work for the Active Learning Center took place between three existing academic buildings, with Purdue's iconic Bell Tower and well-traveled Centennial Mall on the west side. "Being right in the middle of campus, pedestrian traffic is everywhere around the building," said Jeremy Ayres, Wilhelm's Operations Manager. "We created a safe path with visuals and signage. During passing periods between classes we really couldn't move in and out of the site; every hour had a period of busy traffic. We were always working around the students."
To deal with the project's challenging logistics, "We did a lot of pre-planning with the different trades and contractors," Ayers continued. "We scheduled all the deliveries on-time so we knew when they were coming. We could only have so many trucks onsite at a time."
Since no access roads reached the construction site, "We developed a logistics plan that had one path in and one path out, then we defined that path with barriers and fencing," Ayres explained. "It was a one-way loop because you couldn't necessarily turn around onsite."
Every contractor needed to carefully plan for their materials. "We had very limited laydown on the site, so it was only on an as-needed basis," Ayers said. "Most contractors had to schedule materials to meet the workload for the week."
To minimize the area taken up by equipment, Wilhelm rented a Terex Peiner SK-405 Tower Crane from Maxim Crane Works in Indianapolis. "Of course a tower crane lets you reach everywhere onsite without taking up a lot of space, and with the heavy cast-in-place concrete structure, it really made sense to utilize the tower crane throughout the structure component of our work," Ayres said.
Wilhelm self-performed all of the project's concrete work (as well as masonry, general carpentry, and general trades). In addition to the substantial concrete structure, the building's interior features exposed concrete columns. "Having exposed concrete is always a challenge, so we spent a lot of time in mock-up to get the concrete consistency and color right," Ayers said.
In the middle of the building, round concrete columns and exposed steel structure rise from the basement to the roof in a large, open space. According to Geoff Lisle, BSA LifeStructures' Architect and Principal-in-Charge, "One of the design goals was to make sure the lower level didn't feel like a basement. That open space provides a lot of natural light. From the lower level, you can look up and see out the windows."
The central area also harks back to the coal power plant that occupied the site for decades. "There's a large central staircase in the Active Learning Center that adds verticality to the space," Lisle said. "In the old power plant, a flight of stairs rose to a four-story space with the large coal fire boiler systems and the old glass factory windows filling the space with light. We tried to capture that feel with gracious volumes and extensive natural light from the sides and clerestory band in the center of the building."
The new structure also incorporates actual pieces of the old power plant. "Before it was torn down, we went in, took photographs, and tagged items to salvage," Lisle said. Many of those items - including a coal cart, control panels, and old valve systems and pumps - were incorporated into the new building as exhibit pieces.
"Beyond the artifacts, there are some materials from the old power plant, such as floor gratings, that we reused in a different way in the new building," Lisle added.
IMPACT for Students
The impetus for the combined classroom/library building came from a program Purdue initiated in 2011 called Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation (IMPACT). The new teaching pedagogy focuses not only on designing courses differently, but also using space differently to increase student engagement and success.
Throughout the Active Learning Center, spaces, furniture, and technology offer flexibility for collaborative teaching configurations and allow students to study alone, in large groups, or in small groups. The building's 27 classrooms range in size to accommodate from 30 to 300 people. Faculty, staff, and collections from the six libraries integrate into the building, providing resources for students. At the end of the class day and throughout the night, the entire facility will be available for student use, resulting in greater building efficiency.
The Grand Reading Room on the second floor looks out on the Bell Tower. On the upper floor, "There's a piece we refer to as the "˜bridge,'" Lisle said. "It looks like a large railroad trestle. It has collaboration space where students can focus or get together for work sessions. The space is formed by a box truss with glass on both sides."
The project followed LEED sustainability guidelines with energy-efficient systems, heat recovery, LED lighting, occupancy sensors, natural lighting, and sun shading.
During construction, three web cameras captured the work. With Purdue's engineering focus and construction management program, "We had a lot of eyes on the project," Ayres said. "Numerous classes toured the site throughout construction. We also utilized Purdue students for internships each summer. We were always integrating and working with the university to support their classes."