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Creating a united campus on an accelerated schedule

Five keys to a new campus at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences

Deborah Knast, Associate, Philadelphia, PA

Tight timeline, no problem. But what does urgency mean for design?

Completed in August, 2016, Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences’ new 24.7-acre campus consists of two-state-of-the-art structures totaling 345,000 SF in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While the challenge to create these spaces all under one roof was exciting for our designers, another aspect of the project took center stage—the timetable. We had 18 months—6 for design and documentation, 12 for construction—to completely retrofit a massive 65,000 SF administration building and 280,000 SF factory/warehouse. 

The Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences (PCHS) was growing rapidly and the institution found itself spread across five fragmented buildings, which quickly showed their limitations. The lack of a cohesive, centralized campus meant students missed out on the out-of-class learning and camaraderie that makes time on campus an enriching experience.

Why such a tight schedule? The school year. It dictated that the building had to be ready to accommodate all the college’s relocated functions so 1,500 students could begin the next school year on their new campus.

Here are five keys to our approach to creating great design on this rewarding project while meeting a hard deadline. 

1.    We started with strategic planning.
Stantec’s internal Project Management (PM) team served as the owner’s representative for PCHS as they embarked on a search for an ideal home for relocation and consolidation of their allied health program. Our PM team focuses on the management and coordination of clients’ long-term strategic planning, managing risk, while blending technical and business expertise to meet an organization’s strategic goals. The project managers were tasked with finding the college a site that would work with their transformative program. As PCHS was searching for spaces, the PM team was instrumental in working with Stantec’s design team in coordinating a master plan for various sites. During the process, the team conducted some initial test fits, and six months prior to final selection, the design team was able to proactively plan the site in Lancaster. The advance planning paid off, and the team knew the preliminary design would be a success, so things went smoothly and quickly as a result.

Through the utilization of Stantec’s PM team and the preliminary identification of a manufacturing complex as the project site, the designers were able to identify and design a campus culture in a setting that would facilitate future growth at the campus. It also gave Stantec planners and designers the opportunity to transform an office building and warehouse space into a new medical education campus all within the college’s budget.

During design and construction, Stantec’s PM team managed and coordinated the entire project team to maintain a fast-track schedule and while keeping costs foreseeable as the project progressed.

2.    We embraced design-build.
To meet the ambitious timeframe, we utilized a design-build model that had all parties—from client to contractor—at the table from day one. At the heart of this process lay our fast-track schedule, which we developed by working backward from the projected move-in date dictated by the college academic calendar. 

With all parties on board from the start, we could foster a collaborative spirit and regular communication. Weekly meetings with PCHS team were followed by meetings with contractor and project management to discuss progress and monitor budget. By engaging all the disciplines from the beginning of the project, we saved time during the documentation and construction phases because there were no surprises and all the coordination had already taken place. In this relationship, we didn’t have a contractor saying “no, you can’t do that” but rather discussion, analysis, and a team working together.

This communication expanded the possibilities and enabled us to achieve stunning design at the college. Our classroom building was a former warehouse without much natural light, so the idea of adding skylights came into play. In a traditional set-up, schedule and budget might have made skylights a no-go, but in this design-build project, we were able to create a layout, adjust structure and run cost analysis. Within a couple weeks, we had skylights in.

In a similar way, we were able to make significant design changes such as removing a column in a 450-seat auditorium, preserving high-end decorative lighting fixtures and getting the glass railings we desired by adjusting the budget on the fly with our design-build team.

Many of the design items we pushed for are among the project’s most successful signature features today. The ring light fixtures in the lobby of building one act as a beacon for members of the Lancaster community driving by.

3.    We leveraged vendor partnerships.
We cultivated a strategic partnership between furniture manufacturer Steelcase and PCHS. This alliance gave PCHS a price discount and access to the vendor’s latest offerings to achieve their goal of making every space a learning space.

This strategic partnership was advantageous to the design team, allowing us to kick start the furniture conversation early on. This gave us the rare opportunity to fast forward our initial space planning and design interior details while selecting furniture.

The relationship brought a dealer and installer on board who were invaluable resources, getting us mock-ups of the office space and new faculty workstations on demand and showing faculty how workstations could be modified and customized with accessories. 

4.    We had a clear mission.
President of PCHS Mary Grace Simcox, Ed.D., RN, BSN, MSN wanted a campus that would shake things up at PCHS. She challenged Stantec to make “every space a learning space” for its next generation of allied health students. She had a clear and powerful vision for a united campus where every space was designed for learning. The college’s embrace of innovative approaches to active learning and collaboration gave us a mandate for creating spaces that supported the cultural and institutional change PCHS was undertaking. 

The president stuck to her guns and held to her vision of a new campus and new culture of active learning which in turn inspired everyone on the project. None of us wanted to let her down. We wanted to make this a great campus for the college moving forward. Ultimately, this also guided the design as the space had to reflect her vision to work.
[Want to learn more? Look for an interview with President Simcox on Stantec.com soon.]

5.    We created a new design brand.
The school had always been in multiple buildings and hadn’t had the opportunity to define its own brand visually. One of the president’s key directives was to define a brand, to use bold colors and take the school away from finishes it had been forced to have in other locations.

That gave us the green light to really utilize our design expertise and create space with strong, vibrant looks. She wanted the space to feel non-traditional to communicate the cutting-edge ideas about education the school was incorporating. She wanted her students to be influenced by color and light and the ability to see what’s going around them through a great deal of transparency. Leadership saw design as crucial to dramatic cultural change.

The new Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences opened its doors in Fall 2016.

To meet the ambitious timeframe, we utilized a design-build model that had all parties—from client to contractor—at the table from day one.

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