Sundt’s Community College Projects Expanding Accessibility For Students

 |  Building

With the cost of tuition rising and an increase in demand for remote learning, community colleges are having their moment. Community colleges give students a stepping stone to their educational goals by offering credits at lower tuition rates than four-year universities. Those credits can be applied toward an associate’s degree or transferred to a four-year degree program at a university. In many ways, community colleges reflect their public or private university counterparts on a smaller scale. Yet key differences between community colleges and traditional universities exist, and Sundt — as experts in the higher education building market — consider all of those differences when tackling a community college project. To dive into this topic, we talked to John Messick, a project director for Sundt’s Building Group in Southern California. He draws from his 34 years in the industry and over $625 million in contracts between university and community college work to provide his thoughts about what makes for a strong partnership between contractor and community college.



How The Market Has Evolved

Messick has seen the higher education market evolve over the course of his career when it comes to contracts and construction processes. “I’ve watched Sundt hone our expertise over the last few decades with tracking work, optimizing preconstruction and planning, and finding more and more ways to add value for our community college clients,” he said.

Part of that evolution includes a shift away from traditional project delivery methods in favor of more collaborative ones. Alternative delivery methods allow all stakeholders on a project to work alongside one another for the best possible outcome. “In the last decade or so, alternative delivery methods have become the norm for our higher education projects in California. The stakeholders on these projects want to be engaged in every step of the process, which is great because it helps us deliver a better product.”

Projects using alternative project delivery methods (APDMs) like progressive design-build (PDB) and construction manager at risk (CMAR), and construction manager multiple prime (CMMP) result in more accurate estimates, better communication, increased cost savings and higher client satisfaction with the end product. In the last 10 years, 100% of Sundt’s community college projects have used some form of alternative delivery method. Compared to the decade before during which not a single project used an APDM, this demonstrates a huge shift in the way that higher education clients prefer to do business.



Doing More With Less

Every project needs funding. Universities, by nature, can budget much higher for the more intensive, large-scale projects required to serve a larger student population. But that doesn’t mean community colleges must sacrifice quality to cut costs.

“There are 73 community college districts (116 college campuses) in California, and they are generally run autonomously of each other, whereas you have public university systems like California State University (CSU) that consist of 23 campuses and a handful of off-campus centers,” Messick explained. “The majority of community colleges are funded by local bond initiatives voted on by residents within each school district’s area of service. This way, each district focuses on providing the training and skills that are most in-demand within each community.”

Additionally, university and community college student populations differ from one another. Those attending universities are more likely to be full-time students who live on campus and require a wider range of facilities to support their daily activities outside of classes. Students at community colleges commute to campus and often include those in the workforce seeking to acquire new skills, have families to take care of, and usually have part-time or full-time jobs. These students come to campus to attend classes, maybe study on campus, and then leave. This means that community colleges want to maximize their project budget for resources their students will benefit from the most, like libraries, study spaces and common areas to collaborate and work on projects.



Campuses For The Modern Student

Sundt’s recent community college projects demonstrate how campuses are adapting to the evolving needs of today’s students. For North Orange County Community College District’s Cypress College, Sundt led the construction and renovation of the Science, Engineering, and Math Building (SEM), the Veteran’s Resource Center (VRC), the Student Activities Center and the Veterans Memorial Bridge, Tribute Garden and pond renovation. This project was Cypress College’s first CMAR contract, and this delivery method ended up being more advantageous than anyone imagined. It allowed Sundt to collaborate with the owner and the entire team to efficiently tackle challenges throughout each step of the process, which was instrumental in minimizing the unexpected effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For much of the project, Sundt was competing for materials and labor resources with the nearby construction of a new stadium for the NFL’s L.A. Rams. Despite these obstacles, our project team powered through to complete the project within budget, with a final product that exceeded owner expectations. The building includes state-of-the-art learning facilities, and the Veterans Resource Center offers essential educational support services to veteran students as they transition from active military duty to civilian life. In addition to learning and support spaces, the project incorporated a beautiful tribute to veterans with a garden, memorial bridge, and outdoor event plaza.

Sundt’s third project for Golden West Community College, the Language Arts Complex (LAC), creates a new environment to encourage connectedness and collaboration. The LAC is a great example of a building that is not only aesthetically appealing and inviting to students but will adequately support the growing needs of the school’s language arts programs. The building covers all the bases with new classrooms, computer labs, gathering, office and support spaces, and a reading, writing and resource center. Beyond the spaces for learning, the complex is marked with unique design elements. The design team incorporated multiple sustainable features, including a natural cooling system using the coastal breeze from the Pacific Ocean to regulate the internal temperature of the building. Aesthetic touches, such as a skylight that projects a secret message, create a space that students can look forward to spending time in.

“What I love most about our recent community college projects is that they’re making education more accessible,” Messick said. “We are fortunate to build these spaces on campus that provide students with access to the tools and resources they need to be successful in a global economy.”


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