Case Studies

Western State Colorado University’s The Pinnacles: Campus-driven Eco-conscious Design

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Higher education institutions often look to partner with private developers to help finance and build the housing required to accommodate an ever-increasing student enrollment rate, but Western Colorado State University (WSCU) recently bucked the trend. The university was formerly known as Western State College, but the institution’s Board of Trustees moved to rename and rebrand the college to better reflect the multitude of professional training programs offered. The name change went into effect in August 2012, just as WSCU opened the doors of The Pinnacles, the university’s new and improved student apartment complex.

Instead of working with an external student housing developer to design and build the apartment complex, WSCU looked internally to create a facility that truly reflected its campus’ culture. The development team reached out to the students to name the new residence hall, eventually settling on The Pinnacles as a nod to the nearby Dillon Pinnacles geological formations in the Blue Mesa Reservoir. The reservoir sits between Montrose, Colo., and Gunnison, Colo., where WSCU is proud to be located.

WSCU enlisted the help of Design West Architects (Design West) based out of Logan, Utah, to design the structure with the goal of achieving LEED Gold certification under the pilot program for Midrise Homes. The move reflects WSCU’s ongoing commitment to make sustainability part and parcel of the WSCU experience, which officially began in 2005 when Jay Helman, president of WSCU, signed an Environmental Charter and the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The charter affirms WSCU’s stance on responsibly managing natural resources and making sustainability a major part of WSCU’s growth and development, while the Presidents’ Climate Committee affirms WSCU will work toward becoming a carbon neutral campus.

Shaping Campus Culture

“We had never worked for WSCU before, but we were excited to take on this project because it was clear from the very beginning that it was a campus-driven development,” expands Matt Vineyard, senior project manager at JE Dunn Construction (JE Dunn). WSCU contacted JE Dunn’s Colorado Springs, Colo., branch to sign onto the project as both construction manager and general contractor for the project, bolstered by JE Dunn’s lengthy portfolio of completed projects for higher education institutions. JE Dunn likewise committed to sustainable construction practices and opted to construct its Kansas City, Mo., headquarters to achieve LEED Gold certification.

The Pinnacles student housing project totals more than 92,000 square feet and provides a total of 54 units capable of housing anywhere from 186 to 226 tenants. The fully furnished units represent a mix of suite-style clusters with one, two or three bedrooms and one or two bathrooms per unit, each of which share a living room and full kitchen. Residents will also share common spaces, a computer lab, game rooms and a greenhouse that will be open to campus groups engaging in community gardening activities.

In fact, the greenhouse is just one of many features that WSCU included in pursuit of LEED Gold certification. WSCU and Design West opted to use insulate concrete forms (ICF) to construct the building for its superior insulation and durability. “ICF has been around for quite some time, though it’s only become more prevalent in the last few years,” adds Vineyard. “In this case, WSCU wanted to use ICF because the university was looking for a building to last at least 50 years or more.”

Furthermore, the $16 million project required the demolition of three outdated buildings from the 1930s to the 1950s on a site that sat essentially at the entrance to the WSCU campus. WSCU asked Design West to ensure the building’s design would deliver on its sustainability objectives while also serving as something of a gateway to campus, which required the building to blend nicely with the campus’ architectural aesthetic. ICF allowed the JE Dunn team to deliver as the technique allows crews to clad the interior and exterior surfaces with a wide range of materials ranging from stucco to gypsum board and brick.

Making Way for Tomorrow

Even though the project represents JE Dunn’s first in the Gunnison area, the company aimed to recruit the help of as many local laborers, subcontractors and material suppliers possible, which Vineyard estimates accounted for roughly half of all parties involved. JE Dunn compiled extensive data from tracking the project’s expenditures, including at the subcontractor levels. The company focused on both direct economic benefits to the Gunnison Valley community through things like hotels, food and gas and through tracking the wages paid to local laborers.

“At the end of the day, we found that the project contributed over $3.7 million to the community,” asserts Vineyard. “Ultimately, the project has been a great experience for us and we were fortunate enough to have formed a great working relationship with WSCU and Design West, who are both pleased and excited about what they can offer now in on-campus living.”

WSCU opened The Pinnacles facility to only upperclassmen – non-freshman students – and made concerted efforts to keep the apartments priced competitively with off-campus housing options. The student body responded in kind, with a number of students retuning to live on campus after one or more years living in off-campus housing.

JE Dunn’s work with WSCU is far from over, though, as the company began construction in 2012 on a state-of-the-art 118,000-square foot recreation center and multipurpose field house for the WSCU campus. The facility will include an NCAA-regulation-size indoor track, interior sport courts, classrooms and offices scheduled to complete in early 2014. When completed, JE Dunn Construction will have built the nation’s highest elevation regulation competition track, adding one more stone in Western Colorado State University’s path toward setting the bar for a multifaceted and sustainability-oriented educational experience.

Published on: March 10, 2013

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