Satyen Patel: The Evolution of Construction in Student Housing

by Katie Sloan

Universities across the country are seeing an increased demand for state-of-the art student amenities. New dormitories are at the top of the list for many universities as their student population grows. But, as those of us in the industry know, construction on school campuses presents a number of unique challenges not shared by many other construction projects. The demand for on-schedule production, reduced waste, limited interruption and the need to stay on-budget are key factors that have little room for error.

So, how is technology helping to ease school construction woes and what does the future of this vertical look like? First, in order to become a go-to vendor for universities, a stellar track record of on-time projects is necessary. Universities have very hard deadlines (class start dates, for example) so building methods that require rework and large, sometimes unreliable crews are becoming obsolete in the school construction world. A construction method that enables technologies like BIM (building information modeling) works well for these multi-unit, time-sensitive projects because of its 3D scalable design aspect. If we know the exact measurements and outcome of a project, the need for rework is greatly diminished. Also, technologies like QR codes and pre-assembled parts can help the on-site crew get things done in less time, with fewer people.

Next, because of the nature of school construction, the ability to keep the surrounding areas “out of the construction zone” is essential. Students are on campus to learn and distracting noise, waste, crews and machinery don’t have a place on most university campuses. This is another reason companies with pre-assembled parts are winning university construction bids. Buildings that only need to be bolted together are much more appealing than concrete trucks, noisy machinery and other factors that come with building from scratch on-site. In addition, many universities are “going green” these days and reduced on-site waste is just another benefit of ready-to-assemble building materials.

This brings us to budget, which is perhaps the number one decision-making factor in receiving or losing school construction bids. Many universities rely on state and federal funds, in addition to tuition payments, meaning budgets are often firm with little room for negotiation. If students are unable to move into a dormitory on time, the university may lose them to another school or be forced to pay for housing alternatives, affecting their bottom line.  If a construction project goes over the expected budget, the university may require additional state or federal funds.  Or in most cases the developer or the general contractor would need to cover for those through penalty clauses in their contracts for late deliveries.  Education is expensive and students expect everything to be well prepared in advance of their attendance. Budgetary issues resulting from waste, rework, unreliable crews, poor quality of finish etc., are punitive when it comes to school construction.

So, what do these factors mean for the future of school construction?  For companies like Prescient, that means honing in on details of the project, planning ahead accordingly and offering an achievable bid that makes sense for university requirements. Wooden structures can cause excess waste on campus often “settle” and must be reworked while concrete structures are time-consuming to build. At Prescient, we use a steel construction platform (which results in a non-combustible building, an important safety aspect for student living) that comes in as ready-to-assemble precision-manufactured components that are easily put together onsite to create a faster, greener, cheaper and overall better product for use in building student dorms. For us, the future of school construction is clear: stay on budget, use fewer materials, finish on time and minimize disruption to students during enrollment.  We’re proud to say we’re helping universities across the country achieve their objectives with our state-of-the-art construction platform. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, time-consuming exercise.  For us, that future is now.

Satyen Patel is Chairman and CEO of Prescient, a Colorado-based software design, structural system manufacturing and installation company that recently completed three student housing projects on campuses including University of Texas, University of South Florida and Colorado Christian University with several more student housing projects on the way. 

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