Gilbane Overcomes Challenges of Busy Campus to Complete Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center
Accelerating the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center: Public-Private Partnership and Unique Funding Options Bring More Conference Space to College Station Campus
Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, needed additional space for large conferences and meetings, but lacked funding for a new facility. A unique public-private partnership allowed them to build the $152 million Doug Pitcock ’49 Texas A&M University Hotel and Conference Center. With an accelerated schedule carried out by design-builder Gilbane of Houston, the new eight-story, 250,000-square-foot hotel and 35,000-square-foot conference center will welcome guests this August as the Aggies start their football season across the street at Kyle Field.
The upscale hotel sits atop a two-level podium housing the conference center, banquet facilities, and 8,300-square-foot ballroom. The main lobby features a full-service restaurant and adjoining 12th Man Lounge at street and terrace levels. On the third-level amenity terrace, the pool sports the university’s logo. The 250 guestrooms, decorated in Texas A&M’s colors of maroon and white with grey accents, occupy the upper six floors.
On the exterior, “The brick and curtain wall skin was designed to mimic the Memorial Student Center next door and complement the surrounding campus buildings,” said Kyle Holland, Gilbane’s Project Manager.
To fund the project, the university ground-leased the land to the nonprofit National Campus and Community Development Corporation of Austin, Texas. That organization raised money from private sources through bond sales.
“University officials had long identified a need for the conference center, but there was no university money available for the project,” explained Billy Hamilton, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer for the Texas A&M University System. “Chancellor John Sharp’s suggestion to lease system land to a third party for a hotel and parking garage created a revenue stream to build the conference center as part of the project. At the expiration of the ground lease, ownership of the hotel and conference center will transfer to the university.”
Texas A&M also offered Guest Room Options that allowed donors to purchase guaranteed booking for a given room over a 10-year period. Donations ranged from $55,000 to $125,000 per room.
“Guest Room Option donations will first go to pay debt service on the bonds [used to finance the project],” Hamilton said. “Any remaining funds will support the ongoing operations of the university to help pay for education, research, and services.”
The university also generated funds with a naming sponsor, noted alumnus and transportation industry leader Doug Pitcock. (See “Construction Industry Legacy” sidebar.) Net revenues from the operation of the hotel will go to the university, as well.
Building in a Hurry
The project began in fall 2015 when the university bid a redevelopment plan for the site occupied by 40-year-old Cain Hall. The university awarded the design-build contract to Gilbane. After demolishing Cain Hall in spring 2016, Gilbane finished a new five-level parking garage in October 2016 and then began construction of the hotel and conference center that same month.
To meet the university’s expedited schedule for the hotel and conference center, “We had an accelerated design process to allow the construction foundations to begin, and we phased subsequent design packages to allow various pieces of work to start ahead of final drawings,” Holland said.
Gilbane also worked closely with their architect, Huitt-Zollars of Houston, to ensure materials arrived when needed. “Given the compressed schedule, we made sure we were on the same page as the design team in what materials were selected, and releasing longer lead-time items to make sure they arrived onsite in time for when they needed to be installed,” Holland said.
In order to finish on schedule, “We had to get creative in our sequencing,” Holland added. “We maintained extensive coordination among our subcontractors, making sure we had trades ready to start as soon as they were able. We also tried to find places to overlap trades where practical. We worked a good amount of overtime in some phases to make sure we kept up with the schedule.”
Local involvement made timing easier. “We used a lot of locally sourced materials, including all the concrete for the cast-in-place structure,” Holland said. “We also used local contractors whenever possible.”
Activity All Around
In addition to the tight schedule, Gilbane also dealt with a tight site. At the start of the project, they used a large laydown area on the far side of the parking garage. When that area was needed for another project this spring, they had to vacate it.
“The borders of the jobsite extend to the property lines so we’ve had minimal laydown area for the past few months,” Holland said. “There’s been a lot more planning to get materials inside the building, rather than having deliveries show up and needing to store them. We have to wait some of our deliveries until we need the materials so they can be taken straight into the building and installed.”
Constant nearby activity created additional challenges. “Working on-campus at a major university for two years during the school year, we dealt with pedestrian and vehicular traffic all around the site,” Holland explained. “We worked a full football season, planning the Friday before and Sunday after to get work done around the game schedule. We also worked next to and ultimately connected to the existing parking garage that remained active throughout the entire project.”
Since the end of last year, the university has been reworking streets around the jobsite. “They’ve had to close various parts of the street to be broken out and re-poured, so we adjusted our traffic patterns and our loading in and out of materials around their contractor’s schedule,” Holland said.
Despite the challenges, the project remains on schedule to finish in August. Once it opens, “The Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center will allow the university to host international conferences and recruit internationally recognized faculty and top-tier staff, advancing the university’s reputation and providing the student body with a world-class education,” Hamilton said. “The increase in conference space will be attractive to student organizations, faculty, corporate recruiters, and former students. The hotel will also serve as an employment opportunity for students and the community.”
Construction Industry Legacy
Texas A&M named the new hotel and conference center after noted alumnus and philanthropist James D. “Doug” Pitcock, Jr., who graduated from the university in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. During his career, he co-founded and served as Partner, President, and CEO of Williams Brothers Construction, growing the company into one of the nation’s largest highway construction firms.
Pitcock’s legacy includes many honors. In 1976, President Gerald Ford appointed him to the National Transportation Policy Study Commission. Pitcock also served as President of Associated General Contractors of America in 1984. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association named him one of “America’s Top Construction Professionals of the 20th Century” in 2002. Two years later he was inducted into the Texas Good Roads and Transportation Association Hall of Fame and in 2005 was inducted into the Texas Transportation Institute’s Hall of Honor. He was named “Houston Engineer of the Year” in 2006. In 2016 he received the American Concrete Pavement Association’s Hartmann-Hirschman-Egan Award for leadership in the transportation-construction industry.