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UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences

Project Overview

As the nation’s first school dedicated to the study of freshwater science, the School of Freshwater Sciences building, a three story, $39 million project for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee continues UWM’s 40-year history of innovative water research.

The overall design goal was to create a space that encourages collaboration, inspires ideas, celebrates the environment, promotes freshwater research, and attracts global interest. Inside and out, the building mimics the curves and colors of water with its many windows, open spaces and curving architecture. The addition’s linear form compliments the narrow site and seamlessly connects to the existing building to promote integration and collaboration between disciplines. The exterior’s southern exposure reflects the movement, flow, and reflectivity of water and incorporates carefully placed sunshades to make the best use of natural light for the interior. The primary functions in the building are interdisciplinary research labs, faculty and student offices, multi-purpose collaboration areas, and instructional spaces.

The Challenges

The most involved aspect and challenge associated with this project was the coordination of ceiling mechanicals along with the sequencing of trades. Due to the ongoing operations in the facility during construction, no previous site drawings, and dozens of gas and water lines, there was a lot riding on the team’s ability to get the job done right the first time.

In addition to the MEP coordination, another challenge the team met was working with a new medium on the façade of the building. TAKTL panels were used on the exterior of the facility, a new technology, not utilized previously on any area construction projects. TAKTL is both an advanced Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC) and the first company integrating the formulation, mold design, and automated manufacturing of UHPC to produce architectural elements of exceptional quality and performance. They are over four times as strong as traditional precast concrete and perform exceptionally well in demanding weather conditions.


The Solutions

Due to the level of difficulty, the team proposed and achieved support from the Owner, Architect, Engineers and all subs to use Building Information Modeling (BIM) to coordinate the MEPs in the facility, even though it was a State and single prime project. An extensive preplanning effort that involved BIM, in-depth site investigations, 21 design meetings with the project team, and an initial partnering session to get all subcontractors on board, were utilized to learn the ins-and-outs of the complexities within the facility. Shannon Metoxen, Senior Project Manager for JP Cullen, described the MEP coordination as, “tougher than any hospital project I’ve ever been involved in.”

The team made sure they worked closely with the staff at the University to understand the existing valves, pipes and controls to prevent any mistakes from happening. Regular meetings with the facilities staff at the university were established outside of other design meetings to coordinate exclusively with the facilities department. The facility’s operations could not be disrupted and ran 24 hours a day, so any and all shut downs were investigated, approved, and communicated through the University.

Any water lines, including the chlorinated, dechlorinated, and RO water, couldn’t be crossed or turned off as it would have been contaminated and detrimental to research. Maintaining the water temperature was also crucial as a 10 degree change could alter fish behavior. This is why understanding the heating and cooling system was critical to maintain the ideal “life support water” for the fish.

The team was even cautious when working around the many fish tanks in the facility so they would not cast a shadow and spook the fish. “It would have taken just one person going into the job not knowing what they were doing to destroy 30 years of research,” said Metoxen.

For the TAKTL panels, the team worked with an exterior envelope commissioning agent to assist with the panel install, and verify all standards were met. The team constructed two stand-alone mock ups in advance. These were smaller models of the actual facility, built step by step to quality and sequencing, approximately 200 SQFT. This was beneficial as it gave every contractor an idea of the complexity of the project. It also allowed the architect and commissioning agent to change some of the details prior to production. With all of the penetrations through the air and vapor barrier, this mock-up was critical for everyone to understand how each piece needed to be installed.


The Results

The use of BIM, combined with successful team communication, accelerated the project schedule by one whole month by improving collaboration between the design team and the contractor.

The TAKTL installation process took 6 months from start to finish; giving everyone the review time they needed, along with the nine different trades, to be coordinated successfully.


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