In campus construction zone, 2-way communication a key to success

While University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students wrapped up their semester this past May, the work was just beginning for those involved with the Illinois Street Residence Hall (ISR) renovation. On May 14, the day after students moved out, fences were erected around the existing facility in preparation for demolition, which would soon follow.  

Summer prep

The team had two phases it wanted to complete during the summer months while students were away. The first was to demolish the existing structure. And the second was to reroute the building utilities so students could still live in the two residence halls connected to ISR—Wardall and Townsend—while construction was going on. 

“That’s where a lot of the work this summer has been,” says John Humlicek, associate director of housing for facilities. “It was demolishing the current facility, and then starting the process of building all the initial infrastructure, and adding on that end all the new utilities before the beginnings of the dining hall.”

Along with the demolition, construction workers also had to relocate some student facilities, such as a laundry room and a retail concept as well as lounge and study areas, that were also torn down during construction. 

Related: See the 11 new dining concepts the University of Illinois will unveil as part of its ISR renovation.

Aside from a few small setbacks, such as waiting on permits from the state, the team was able to successfully meet its goals. 

At the time of this writing, the construction continues to be on schedule and the building’s steel structure is being assembled. The hope is to have the building’s entire superstructure in place and temporarily enclosed by the middle of December. This will allow the construction workers to move indoors by the time colder weather hits.

Open communication 

While construction workers tore the building down over the summer, the marketing team and residential life were busy developing material to keep students informed of what they could expect when they returned to campus. 

“Trying to make [students] aware of what they were walking into was really important. We were really upfront with ISR residents with what they can expect,” says Melissa McDonald, assistant director for residential life, hall supervision and staffing.Information was sent out to students during the summer months, which outlined the construction process and how it would affect them. Students could also learn more about the renovation and construction process online. 

Moving back to campus 

Now that students have returned to campus, keeping the line of communication as open as possible between Residential Life and residents continues to be a priority.

“We’ve tried to be very present as a staff with [students],” says Sam Holden, area coordinator for Urbana North Residence Halls. 

When students returned, Residential Life held floor meetings where resident directors talked about some of the things students might see during construction. The directors also identified whom students should contact if they ran into any problems. 

Resident assistants (RAs) also had some extra training due to the construction.

“Part of the role of the RAs is to check the building and check the grounds, so we provided them with a little bit of additional training to be able to check and make sure construction spaces are secure,” Holden says.

To keep students safe while moving about campus, flagmen have been brought in when equipment is being moved in and out of the construction zone. Attention has also been given to making sure pathways, especially those that are affected most by the construction, are well-lit. 

The school and construction team also hold weekly meetings to discuss any upcoming parts of the construction that may affect nearby residents. 

“Heavy demolition has created a lot of vibration and noise in the past,” Humlicek says. “So, we try to have an awareness of that ahead of time, so we can communicate with residents what to expect.” 

Name game 

As a fun way to keep students engaged during the construction process, the marketing team is holding a contest for residents to name each of the dining hall’s micro restaurants and design the logos. 

“We know [through] working with Gen Z that they like to be a part of different processes,” says Chelsea Hamilton, director of marketing and promotions. “This is something that helps increase their buy-in and it helps to increase the feeling that when they walk into university housing they’re in their space.”

The marketing team is reaching out to residents through newsletters, social media and posters on campus asking students to submit their ideas. The marketing team will then narrow down the submissions to the top three to five finalists, which will be voted on by students. 

Once the names are chosen, logos for each of the restaurants will be designed as well. 

“We have student designers here in the office as well as two professional designers, and they will be the team that will then go through and start to develop the logos,” Hamilton says, adding that the marketing team is always happy to incorporate students’ ideas. 

“We’ve learned that our students are very creative, and we have very strong programs in terms of media, marketing and business, so it’s always nice to have students come through with some fresh ideas,” she says.  

Keeping students fed 

When ISR was demolished over the summer, one of the school’s retail locations, Chomps, was also torn down. 

The team decided to relocate Chomps to one of ISR’s residence halls. Now housed in Wardall, the new Chomps offers prepackaged grab-and-go items such as salads and sushi and also includes a small station outfitted with ventless turbo chef ovens for sandwiches and pizza.

“We felt like we had to have some foodservice on site especially during colder months, so students wouldn’t have to go too far if they don’t want to,” says Chris Henning, senior assistant director of dining.  

Students willing to walk can head to the nearby Illini Union where its Blue 41 concept offers sit-down, all-you-care-to-eat service for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Students can also visit Orange on Green, another concept in the Union, which serves lunch and dinner sit-down meals as well as food to go that count as meal swipes. 

“The students really enjoy having a swipe for takeout option and it’s really helped our traffic flow in general,” Henning says. “We haven’t had an issue with lines. It’s been really great.” 

Diners also have another to-go option near ISR: the school’s food truck. 

“We use [the truck] for a lot for special events and we’ll do things with athletics and that sort of thing,” Henning says. “We decided that it would be best served at this location as kind of a permanent fixture.”

The dining team chose a location near ISR that had an easy walkway as well as access to electrical outlets, so they don’t have to worry about running out of power. The truck offers breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (unless it’s being used for an event) and serves as a popular spot for both students and construction workers to grab a meal on the go. When designing the menu, the team aimed for simplicity. 

“On the truck in the past, we have done some kind of wild and crazy items, but we went back to the basics here to make it all about items we could produce quickly and keep the lines moving,” Henning says, adding that the menu revolves around dishes such as grilled chicken sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and fries. “It’s really heavily focused on quick-service and comfort food kind of items.”

Students as well as construction workers have voiced their opinions on the menu, requesting items such as a breakfast burrito. The team loves taking suggestions, and just as the ISR construction will continue to evolve as the semester goes on, so will the menu at the truck, Henning says. 

“The menu will change as students are looking for different items or as the weather changes,” Henning says. “It is by no means static.”

Photograph courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign



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