Williams Brothers Construction Builds State-of-the-Art Bradley University Business and Engineering Complex
For Greater Innovation and Collaboration: New $100M Bradley University Complex Brings Engineering and Business Together Under One Roof
The $100 million, 270,000-square-foot Business and Engineering Complex at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, will be the largest building on campus when General Contractor Williams Brothers Construction Inc. (headquartered in Peoria Heights, Illinois) finishes the project in 2020. More significantly, though, as home to both the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology and the Foster College of Business, the building will facilitate a new way of learning and promote innovation.
“Merging these two colleges in a singular space and establishing an environment that enables collaboration between these two disciplines is exciting and rare within college offerings,” said
Larry McGuire, Bradley’s Director of Facilities.
The project replaces two outdated campus buildings with one state-of-the-art facility modeled after the business environments where students will launch their careers. Labs, classrooms, and meeting spaces are designed to encourage collaboration between disciplines, as well as with industry and the local community.
Work began in May 2017 when the College of Business moved out of Baker Hall. Crews demolished that building and began the first phase of construction. Next summer, the two colleges will move into the new building as Phase Two construction continues. When finished, the five-story, privately funded building will also house the Institute for Innovation through Collaboration.
Encouraging ‘Intellectual Collisions’
Six years ago, Dr. Lex Akers, Dean of the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology, and Dr. Darrell Radson, Dean of the Foster College of Business, started their new jobs on the same day. “That was done on purpose so we could work together on creating this dream,” Akers said. “We wanted a structure that would enhance collaboration between the faculty in our two colleges, with the students within the colleges, and – in my college – within the various departments. We’re traditionally too siloed; we wanted to build a structure that would truly encourage intellectual collisions.”
As they worked with Dewberry Architects, Inc., of Peoria, Illinois, on the design of the building, “We really tried to focus on how to best help students learn for the next 30 to 40 years,” Akers said. “It had to be flexible and able to bring in new technologies. We’ve known for a long time that lecturing is one of the least effective ways to teach, but because of traditions and lack of infrastructure, that’s largely how we taught. In the new building we made sure we have the physical space to do it right.”
The new classrooms include modular, moveable tables and plenty of technology to facilitate group work. “There’s no head of the class; the professor is a mentor and guide, not a giver of knowledge,” Akers said. “Generation Z students have always had access to technology so they’re comfortable with it. They like to work in groups, and that needs to be facilitated.”
In the new building, students will prepare for their future careers by collaborating on projects in diverse teams that include different engineering disciplines as well as business disciplines. “That means they have to learn how to explain complex subjects in a way other people can understand, and they have to fuse together ideas,” Akers said. “In the workplace, business people bring the voice of the customer. By better understanding what the public wants and having engineers talk about the constraints they have, you come up with ideal products.”
To promote innovation in the university setting, “We created lots of spaces and opportunities for collaboration to happen, including wide hallways and cubicles with four to six chairs, flat screens, computers, and a variety of technology to connect by phone or video with people in other places,” Akers said.
Those cubicles – and many of the laboratories – feature glass walls. “I think one of the things that spurs innovation is watching other people innovate,” Akers said.
The new building also incorporates themed laboratories. For example, “Robotics is both electrical and mechanical engineering,” Akers explained. “Instead of having two labs as we do now, we’ll have one robotics lab where both departments will hold courses and students will work on joint projects. It will help tear down barriers between the various professions.”
Business and engineering students will share computer facilities. “We’re using new technology to allow a student from any of the departments to sit down at any of the computers and access the proper software,” Akers said. “We’ll share that infrastructure rather than having it siloed as we are now.”
Inviting from Both Sides
In addition to collaboration within the university, the new building is designed to facilitate interactions with the surrounding community. The main entrance provides an additional gateway to Bradley’s campus.
“The initial design featured a big, beautiful entrance from the internal part of campus, but the Business Dean and I felt like the campus needed a very welcoming external view, as well,” Akers said. “In the final design, the entrance from the community side is as welcoming as the entrance from the university side.”
Inside the building, an atrium stretches from the basement to the fourth floor and serves as a “glowing beacon” at night, according to Dewberry Architects. Glass enclosures on each end of the building and massive windows not only provide abundant natural light, but also allow passersby to see inside.
“Part of the design approach was giving the community a view of the academic environment within the building,” McGuire said.
Half of the building will be constructed with structural steel. In the other half with heavy lab equipment for the College of Engineering, structural support comes from concrete pillars and decking. In addition to glass, the exterior will feature limestone and terra cotta.
Constraints of the Busy Campus
As the project progresses, “Maintaining campus functionality is a challenge and an obvious requirement,” McGuire said. “We’ve had to tear down our business building and relocate those classes while we construct Phase One of the new building.”
Campus activity and the occupied building next door also lead to other constraints. “The physical space of the construction area itself doesn’t provide a lot of extra room for the contractor,” McGuire added. “Although there’s an adequate laydown area for materials, it’s important for our contractor to obtain and consume building materials in a timely fashion. As all of this is being accomplished, and to ensure we’re not jeopardizing safety on our campus, we also mandated delivery routes for our vendors to utilize.”
The project remains on schedule and on budget. Both the College of Engineering and College of Business will move into the new building in time for fall 2019 classes. Crews will then tear down the adjacent Jobst Hall, current home to the College of Engineering, and finish the last 20 percent of the new building by December 2020.
By the Numbers
The 270,000-square-foot Business and Engineering Complex at Bradley University features:
- 200 offices
- 28 classrooms
- Eight computer labs
- 46 specialized labs