Satyen Patel: Constructing Student Housing That is Built to Last

by Katie Sloan

Institutions of higher education are constantly studying their plans and cramming for the next school year. The influx of different types of housing options for students — including classic dormitories, apartment-style residences and even university-owned, off-campus options — has made housing choices a key point of differentiation for colleges and universities. This, in turn, has created the need for institutions of higher learning across the country to have strong partners in the construction sector.

Today, student populations are swelling, and subsequent demands for housing often collide with the reality that building projects at colleges and universities have strict move-in deadlines so students can be settled for the next academic year. Consequently, higher education administrators have great expectations when it comes to new facilities on their campuses.

Innovative new technologies and building systems are leading to the increased use of steel as a structural material, as it can be pre-manufactured and installed on site, shortening construction by months and saving institutions a significant amount of money. While it is critical that new dormitories are completed on time and within budget, it is just as important that facilities are built to last and perform well for many years. Consider the following features when determining the importance of durable, long-lasting student housing.


Instead of using the typical methods to control termites, builders can now help prevent pest problems before they begin. Technological progress has allowed building materials like light-gauge and cold-formed steel to become optimal for student housing projects, which are often crunched for time. Cold-formed steel is not a new building material, but advances in technology have provided speed of assembly previously unmatched in multiunit student housing projects. Additionally, advanced structural systems made from steel are resistant to termites.

If termites do get into the structure, the use of light-gauge steel framing can help prevent structural damage due to termites. According to University of Florida experts, termite-resistant construction is the best way to prevent damage, and selecting the right construction materials and methods can reduce the need for pesticides as the first line of defense against termites.


In addition to being termite-proof, light-gauge and cold-formed steel framing is non-combustible as well. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, from January 2000 to May 2015, there were 85 fatal fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and off-campus housing, resulting in 118 fatalities — or an average of approximately seven deaths per school year. While the reason for the fires may vary, there are several specific causes for fires on in on- and off-campus college housing, including cooking, candles, smoking and overloaded power strips.

In addition to providing students with a program for fire safety and prevention, institutions of higher education can help keep students safe from fires by building with light-gauge steel framing and other non-combustible materials.


In addition to cancelling classes and developing strategies for keeping students safe, administrators and student housing developers need to consider planning for tropical storms in regions in which they occur. In the wake of recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, hurricane preparedness has taken precedence on campuses in high-wind velocity coastal areas.

Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area, and Irma destroyed homes and businesses across Florida, as well as damaged properties throughout the Southeast region. Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi reported structural damage to The Texas Tribune. According to the Miami Herald, heavy winds during Hurricane Irma bent and collapsed a crane doing work on the Miami Dade College campus, shuttering multiple buildings and highlighting the importance of completing student housing projects on time.

While zoning and building codes appear to have assisted numerous universities across the country in escaping the worst of hurricane devastation this year, property damage estimates are still in the billions of dollars. In addition to being able to withstand flood damage, developers need to ensure their framing system can withstand heavy winds, as well.

Companies like Prescient, a fully integrated BIM design and building platform that dramatically reduces the time and cost of constructing multi-unit housing using a proprietary modular construction system, have systems that are not only termite-proof and non-combustible, but can tolerate Category 5 hurricanes, which have sustained winds exceeding 157 mph.

It’s important that student housing developers understand the numerous advantages offered by innovative new technologies and building systems. Cutting-edge companies are beginning to realize these advantages when it comes to student housing projects. In addition to being ideally suited for the tight schedules that are common to student housing projects, with steel framing and advanced technologies, facilities can be built taller, more sustainably and to a higher institutional quality than with traditional building materials. When it comes to student housing projects, don’t fail your student community — graduate to construction that’s built to last!

Satyen Patel is Executive Chairman of Prescient, a Colorado-based software design, structural system manufacturing and installation company.

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