Award-winning UW Tacoma University Y Student Center embodies collaboration and community

Since the unveiling of the University of Washington Tacoma’s sprawling University Y Student Center last January, a two-story mural adorning the lobby has welcomed visitors with views into Tacoma’s past and present. Completed by Tacoma artist Chelsea O’Sullivan, the painting depicts a modern container ship alongside a much older one, paying homage to the Longshoremen’s Hall union building that previously stood on the project site for 60 years, as well as the union and its members. The title reads: “In Unity There’s Strength.” The collaborative effort behind the design and construction of the University Y Student Center and recent accolades reflect that very theme.

Photo: Cody Char, University of Washington Tacoma

Built adjacent to the UW Tacoma campus at 1710 Market Street, the University Y Student Center is a 70,238 square-foot facility developed jointly by UW Tacoma and the YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties. Mortenson Construction served as general contractor on the project, which is both a student center and a new YMCA facility for downtown patrons.

Amenities include assembly space, social space and office space, locker rooms, strength-training and cardio equipment, an indoor track, and a gymnasium sized to accommodate one NCAA-regulation basketball court. Through an integrated design and construction process, the project team delivered the Y Student Center in 18 months – a full four months ahead of schedule.

The University Y Student Center opened to rave reviews from UW Tacoma students, who financed much of the project with student fees. The expedited timeline afforded the same students who approved the fees an opportunity to enjoy the facility.

“Our shared vision ultimately resulted in a collaborative, highly effective team that delivered both a centerpiece for student life and a safe haven for family fun and fitness in downtown Tacoma,” said project manager John Baker of Mortenson Construction.

This summer, the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) honored the design-build tandem of Mortenson and McGranahan Architects with a 2015 National Award of Merit in the educational facilities category for its work on the facility. Other members of the project team included PCS Structural Solutions, Enginuity Systems, Hultz BHU, AHBL, Pease & Sons and Danard Electric.

Now in its 20th year, the DBIA awards program recognizes the project teams that demonstrate best practices in design-build across nine construction categories, while delivering value and innovation to project owners.

“To win a National Design-Build Project/Team Award, projects must not only achieve budget and schedule goals, but also demonstrate advanced and innovative application of design-build best practices,” said DBIA CEO Lisa Washington. “This year’s winning projects exemplify extraordinary teaming performance.”

The University Y Student Center project team incorporated a lean approach to design and construction, including pull planning, prefabrication and the early engagement of many subcontractor partners. Additionally, the team’s use of BIM enabled the prefabrication of several building elements including aluminum window mullions, reinforcing steel boundary elements, footing reinforcement and wall-forming systems, all of which helped to expedite the schedule, improve quality and enhance job-site safety.

Sustainability was a focal point throughout. Wood from the demolition of the existing Longshoremen’s Hall was salvaged and reutilized in the main stairway. LED lighting was also incorporated.

Photo: Mortenson Construction

The entire design-build team participated in a campus forum during each academic term and made efforts to include student input in all major project milestones. When students asked for a larger climbing wall than what was planned, the project team provided one – at no extra cost to the owner – by incorporating it as a required structural shear wall. The climbing wall features five paths catering to a variety of skill levels.

Photo: Mortenson Construction

“Student engagement is an area where the design-build team exceeded campus expectations,” said Ed Mirecki, UW Tacoma’s Dean of Student Engagement.

The new facility, set on a hillside, brings vitality to the area and provides a gateway from the city to campus. The use of corrugated metal panels on the building’s exterior also reflects the neighborhood’s industrial heritage.

In July, the University Y Student Center received a local award for its role in revitalizing downtown Tacoma: the Ghilarducci Award, presented as part of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s 2015 New Tacoma Awards. The Ghilarducci Award recognizes successful new development, renovation or beautification. The University Y Student Center was nominated by members of the community.

This article was submitted by NAIOP Washington State Chapter member and Marcom Committee co-chair Richard Kendall.

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