Building a Home Away From Home: Chewning + Wilmer Provide Electric Installation for VCU Dorm

VCU Chewning + Wilmer Inc. installed electrical service for Virginia Commonwealth University's Gladding Residence Center. Image credit: Chewning + Wilmer
Chewning + Wilmer Inc. installed electrical service for Virginia Commonwealth University's Gladding Residence Center. Image credit: Chewning + Wilmer

Serving as a new place for college freshmen to live and connect with one another, Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Gladding Residence Center (GRC) brings state-of-the-art lighting and amenities to its growing student population. Chewning + Wilmer Inc. (C+W), Richmond, Va., provided the dormitory’s electric installation. To ensure the dorms were ready for the 2018–2019 school year, C+W, built much of the dorm’s electrical equipment at its prefabrication facility. The team then delivered hundreds of completed kits for installation to the site according to the project schedule.

C+W is approaching a century in business. Established in 1924 to serve central Virginia, it provides large-scale installations, such as conference centers, office complexes, data centers, petrochemical labs and hospitals. It had also previously done work at VCU. In 2016, it completed the VCU Health System Children’s hospital and installed normal and emergency electrical services renovation at the college’s Cabell Library, which is one of the school’s busiest buildings. The library also included a 90,000-square-foot expansion. C+W is working on the VCU Engineering Building expansion two blocks east of the GRC and the VCU Health System Adult Outpatient facility downtown—a 17-story high-rise.

The new GRC construction aimed to serve students’ need for housing options and expand the school’s accommodations by hundreds. The project also preserved history with the Main Street public bath house, which is part of the building’s facade.

The GRC replaces two outdated, four-story residence halls on Main Street in Richmond. The Gladding complex takes up an entire block. An existing building on the block, GRC3, remained occupied throughout construction.

The lounge has LED chandeliers for a bright and fun ambiance. Image credit: Chewning + Wilmer
The lounge has LED chandeliers for a bright and fun ambiance. Image credit: Chewning + Wilmer

With the new development, the school offers incoming students the latest in amenities, including internet, gaming and gathering areas.

Valued at $8.2 million for C+W’s electric and fire alarm installation, the new 12-story, 360,000-square-foot building houses 1,518 first-year students. Aiming for a comfortable, safe environment for sleeping, socializing and studying, the dorm has single- and multiple-occupancy rooms, kitchens, public and private bathrooms, laundry, study spaces and communal areas.

Prefab put to work

C+W began working on the planning phase in March 2016 with the project design team. The goal was to ensure the electrical design could meet budgetary and design requirements.

“This was a bid-build project,” said Evan Rogers, C+W’s project manager. “However, there was significant value engineering performed to assist with owner budgeting.”

From the onset, the team was looking at an aggressive schedule they would have to coordinate tightly, working around the multiple contractors on-site.

Work started with the demolition of the former two dormitories in August 2016, and new construction began in November.

C+W has a prefabrication facility, which enabled the contractor to meet the demanding schedule. At the facility, C+W performed some of the dorm room build-out off-site then delivered them ready for installation.

“We were able to prefab all rough-in components required for power, lighting, fire alarm and tele/data for each room,” Rogers said.

The building's natural light and colorful artwork make the GRC uniquely VCU. Image credit: Chewning + Wilmer
The building's natural light and colorful artwork make the GRC uniquely VCU. Image credit: Chewning + Wilmer

Each rough-in kit contained everything needed to build a room’s electric system, including boxes, rings, brackets, devices (with protective covers), as well as the metal clad (MC) cable and connectors. C+W also prefabricated low-voltage work in some cases.

“We prefabbed all of the trim-out kits, which included addressing all fire alarm devices and labeling all cover plates,” Rogers said.

By building out all dorm components off-site, C+W was able to accomplish a quick installation with minimal waste and good quality control. Prefabricated items were delivered to the site for just-in-time installation. Rogers said prefab helps meet schedule requirements and is safer because it moves labor hours off-site and into a controlled environment.

To accomplish the rough-in and trim-out components for 784 dorm rooms, the prefabrication consisted of close to 5,000 hours of labor.

Over the last few years, prefabrication has helped the company serve many of its large or tightly scheduled projects.

“We try to prefabricate as much as is practical on any given commercial project,” Rogers said. “Job-specific limitations may prohibit some of the prefab that we would like to use. However, on this project, the general contractor was very helpful in facilitating this installation.”

VCU 5 Image Credit: Chewning + Wilmer
Image Credit: Chewning + Wilmer

C+W does logistics

Staging presented another challenge on the college campus. Electrical work done on-site required a space near the system where all lighting, gear, generator and prefab for the rooms could await installation.

“This kept moving material around the site to a minimum,” Rogers said.

The company worked with local vendors to stage the lighting and gear off-site. The dorm-room prefab kits were staged at C+W’s warehouse until the GRC walls were built and ready for installation.

On the east facade, construction crews worked around the shell of a bath house that is a reminder of the school’s earlier days. The 1912 structure had served as a public bath until it was shut down in the ’50s. It has stood empty since then. No infrastructure from that building was reused.

At peak, the EC had 37 electricians on-site. By the time the project was complete, C+W had run approximately 288,000 feet of MC cable—the equivalent of 54 miles. They also installed 5,557 light fixtures and 8,235 receptacles.

VCU 6 Image Credit: Chewning + Wilmer
Image Credit: Chewning + Wilmer

Systems, lighting and power

In addition to streamlining construction through the use of prefab, C+W used building information modeling (BIM) to create a fast, effective model for building the electric system throughout the facility.

The contractor built in redundancy for power in the event of power loss. The company installed a 400-kilowatt Generac generator and three automatic transfer switches: 225, 400 and 800 amperes (A).

The building itself comes with some modern amenities intended to make student life more interesting. A brightly painted and lit public lounge space on the first floor has a game room for the tenants. The electrical contractor installed hanging LED chandeliers in the common areas. The first floor includes residential life and housing offices, the Housing Leadership Center, an exercise room and building support space.

The vaulted ceiling in the lounge and flex space meant the electrical crews worked at high levels. The EC used scissor lifts to hang lighting in those spaces.

Every other floor houses a public kitchen space and laundry for which C+W provided electric service. VCU uses parts of the building for work space with multiple conference rooms and offices on the first floor.

C+W also installed decorative outdoor LED poles and bollards to illuminate the courtyard and sidewalk surrounding the building.

When it came to low-voltage installation, C+W provided the fire alarm system throughout the building, which consisted of Fire Alarm Complete (JCI/Simplex systems) and installation of pathways for all other low-voltage systems.

Throughout this large, 18-month project, despite tight space and deadlines, there were no recordable safety incidents. That was in part thanks to regular safety meetings and proper protocol for work done by electricians and the other contractors on-site.

C+W was able to complete the project and provide occupancy ahead of any liquidated damages or financial penalties. In August 2018, incoming freshmen moved into the new hall.

“Gladding Residence Center is modern and innovative housing designed to help students connect,” said Richard Sliwoski, VCU facilities management associate vice president. “The building’s natural light and colorful artwork make GRC uniquely VCU, but it is the abundance of community spaces that really stand out—community rooms with games and entertainment, common kitchens and flexible study spaces.”

For the C+W team, the project was a matter of large-scale installation, using prefabrication within tight time constraints, which they can take pride in.

“We are proud that we were able to provide a high-quality installation for a great customer but also proud of the jobs that we created,” Rogers said. “This job would not have been possible without the great leadership of our superintendent, Jayson Holloway, and our foremen, Phil Stone, David Harrington and Marcos Herrera who truly made the project a success for C+W.”

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