Cornell University

A Space for Living and Learning

Forget traditional notions of student life — a classroom here, a dorm room there. At Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, living and learning are tightly linked.

By Diane Calabrese

In one part of the Cornell community, a group of 4 to 12 students live in residences designed more like large houses than dormitories. Each group creates and implements a year-long, structured learning experience around a societal issue. For instance, some living-and-learning groups serve as mentors to children in the community, while others raise funds for charitable causes.

Perfecting space for living-and-learning groups is a priority at the University. In March 2003, the West Campus Residential Initiative project broke ground, aiming at buildings tailored to the interaction of their occupants.

“We are currently in phase 3 of a 5-phase project,” says Art Fives, Project Manager for Cornell University. Completion is slated for August 2008. “Our biggest challenge on this project is scheduling — and the sequencing,” says Fives. Not only must the plan maintain the bed count for students even as new housing is built to supplant the old, but contractors must also work carefully around occupied buildings.

“These phases are reaching completion in an average of 12 to 14 months, which is very aggressive,” says Norm Aidun, PMP, LEED AP, Senior Project/Construction Manager for Welliver McGuire, Inc., of Montour Falls, New York, general contractor for the project.

While certain symmetry is built into the Cornell living-and-learning communities, the collaboration the housing fosters is achieved through a similar sort of group effort on the construction side.

The sustained “team atmosphere” is an exciting part of the West Campus Residential Initiative, says Aidun. “Being well into the third phase with most of the same construction team members enables us all to work more efficiently and effectively, producing the product for the owner while optimizing the three constraints of these projects — schedule, quality, and cost,” he explains.

According to Ken Elliott, Project Manager for Matco Electric Corporation of Vestal, New York, the electrical subcontractor for all three phases to date, participating in this kind of project is a rewarding experience. “These residential facilities that Cornell is installing are second to none,” he says. “As a parent, I understand that it is important to the student.”

Matco contributed to the West Campus Residential Initiative from an early stage, explains Elliott, by offering suggestions for value engineering. For example, with copper prices rising, Matco suggested the use of aluminum as a substitute metal for distribution systems.

“We get it done” encapsulates the commitment of Matco, says Tony Augustine, General Foreman for the company. The compressed schedule at Cornell is a challenge, he explains, but by overlapping on successive phases “there becomes a bond with all the trades — heating, sheet rock, electrical — that makes it easier.”

Every phase has come in as projected, says Spike Fisk, Superintendent with Welliver McGuire. The dedication begins with the Welliver McGuire employees, he explains, and it includes all subcontractors, the Cornell project team, and the architects at KTA.

“We are very lucky to have such good subcontractors on this job,” says Fisk. “The big ones are Matco — electrical, Frey and Campbell — HVAC, Ferillo — plumbing, Lowery — drywall, and JP Reilly — earthwork.”

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