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New Campus Addition Takes Shape

construction site

October 2016


Steel trusses, 85 feet long in half sections and weighing more than five tons apiece, have been making a trip from Norfolk, Neb., to the St. Ambrose campus this month.

The trusses are finding a permanent home atop the Wellness and Recreation Center on the north end of campus, helping the long-anticipated building take shape as the academic year proceeds.

"In the next few weeks, you will see the frame of the building," said Brian Hedgren, senior project manager for Russell Construction, the building's main contractor. "It won't be complete because there is still a lot of bridging and bracing, a lot of detailing to do. But within the next month-and-a-half we are really focusing on getting the building enclosed."

The work is part of a schedule that calls for the largest capital project in university history to be completed in time for the 2017 fall semester.

The Wellness and Recreation Center is the priority project of the Building Our Future campaign and watching it grow from the ground up has been a special opportunity this year.

"It's way bigger than I thought it would be," said Alejandra Villasenor, a sophomore on the women's soccer team. "I want to see the finished product. It's going to be cool."

Said Ray Shovlain '79, '82 MBA, athletics director and head basketball coach, "To see the steel frame of this building in place really gives you an idea of how big this facility is going to be. It really adds to the excitement."

Shovlain said the visible progress on the Wellness and Recreation Center also helps appeal to future St. Ambrose students and student-athletes.

"Right now is one of the greatest times in the history of the university for students and student-athletes to consider attending St. Ambrose," he said. "This facility, combined with the our great academic programs and campus housing as good or better than any school in the region, provides an impressive opportunity."

The massive trusses – 21 of them in total – will support the roof of a field house that will occupy 56,000 of the building's 80,000 total square feet. They were fabricated by Vulcraft Corp of Norfolk and are being assembled by Industrial Steel Erection of Davenport, a subcontractor for the project.

"These are one-of-a-kind, specially designed for this job," Hedgren said of the massive trusses. "We had to look at the building and the load requirements the engineers were indicating. And then obviously, the uniqueness of these trusses. The top chord is arched."

So, assuming Paul Bunyan is not available, exactly how does a manufacturer bend a five-ton piece of steel to a precise specification?

"Computers make it a lot easier," Hedgren said. "I don't know exactly how it's done, but I'm sure it's an interesting process."

Hedgren said the field house is part B of the project. Progressing simultaneously is part A, a two-story structure that replaces the former lobby and office space in the PE Center. Once complete, that area of the building will house classrooms, a 5,200-square-feet, two-story cardio workout and weight room, a club room and new lobby. Meanwhile, another 19,000 square feet of the PE Center is undergoing extensive renovation as well.

This is the kind of project that requires significant coordination, which just happens to be Hedgren's job.

"It's all about having a plan and the right people here," he said about scheduling sub-contractors such as electricians, steelworkers, roofers, carpenters and painters to keep the project moving, under budget and on schedule. "We have great contractors we hired for this project. You put a plan together and get the right manpower and equipment here, it's amazing how fast things can go together."

Within the next several weeks, the structure should be enclosed and water-tight, Hedgren said. That will allow the large, detail-filled task of completing the building's interior to proceed full steam ahead during the winter months.

By the time the building is ready for students, alumni, faculty, staff and the entire St. Ambrose community to enjoy, tens of thousands of man hours will have been logged to construct a state-of-the-art facility.

"It adds up quick," Hedgren said of the manpower invested. "There will be times we will have close to 60 people working here as we get closer to the finishing stages."

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