When construction season is over, but the renovation isn't

Photograph: University Housing, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Illinois Street Residence Hall (ISR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has come a long way since the start of the summer. What was just a hole in the ground now looks like an actual building. Its steel structure is up, and workers have constructed exterior temporary walls to allow them to begin tackling the interior.

“Now, it’s really about pulling all the electrical and all the plumbing. All of those things are becoming realistic for us,” says Director of University Housing Alma Sealine. “We actually won’t have walls up on the interior for a while, but that’s our next phase.”  

For the next 18 months, construction workers and the team at the University of Illinois will be hard at work transforming the inside of ISR into a modern, thriving space for students.

Moving indoors

As work on the interiors begins, the project’s team members have thought beyond the needs of the current students. They have made sure to accurately document each decision they’ve made during the renovation process to help future renovations be successful, says John Humlicek, associate director of housing for facilities.

“You want those people who are working in our places 30, 40 years from now to be able to understand why decisions were made,” he says. “It’s trying to build a facility that meets the needs of our students today and in the coming years, but also planning for flexibility so we can adapt to changing times.”

Making sure ISR’s equipment rooms are large enough to accommodate new technology if need be in the years to come is just one way they are planning for the future, Humlicek says.

Construction isn’t the only thing moving indoors once the weather turns cold. The dining team’s food truck will also be retired during the winter months.

“Operating a truck with water lines and that sort of thing can be an issue,” says Chris Henning, senior assistant director of dining services.

In place of the truck, the team is offering an expanded menu at Chomps, the small eatery located inside one of the residence halls attached to ISR.

“We have a couple of TurboChef [ovens] that we are going to be utilizing for pizzas and grinders and stuff like that,” Henning says. “We’re looking at doing some items such as pulled pork sandwiches that are really filling and hot during the winter time.”

Henning and his team have been monitoring the foot traffic at Chomps and are confident that it will be able to handle an influx of customers once the truck is no longer serving meals. The eatery at Illini Union will also remain open and has continued to be a popular option with students, especially for to-go meals.  

“At lunch where they have 1,500 customers, well over 750 to 800 are ordering takeout from downstairs,” says Henning.

Racing the clock

While many aspects of the renovation have been completed on time, Henning wishes that some components of the project could have been planned a little further out.

“Timelines are really the most important thing,” he says. “Starting early when it comes to planning is the key thing that has been taken away. It always feels like you have more time.”

Planning out ISR’s smallwares, for example, has the team feeling a little rushed while trying to meet its January deadline.  

“There’s so much time involved, and our state is heavily involved in approving large purchases like that, so having enough time built in for those sorts of items is important,” Henning says.

Looking back, members of the team also wish that they had spent more time working on the payment structure for contractors and will make sure to take that into account for future renovations.

“The payment structure for subcontractors was not a robust setup ahead of time. ... It took a while for contractors, once they began work, to get paid,” Humlicek says. “If you’ve got contractors more worried about getting paid than getting the work done, for instance, you do have some progress issues.”

Aside from those minor obstacles, the renovation remains on schedule, and students have been keeping an eye on the progress.  

“[Students] can come down the elevator and in one of our buildings, the lounge is all glass, so they can literally watch the construction site every day,” Sealine says. “Many of our students who are engineers really love to do that, so for as much as the [construction] noise is frustrating for them, they also see the progress and they have been excited to watch that.”  

And, as Humlicek notes, in the end, it’s all about the students.

“We keep reminding everybody, including ourselves, who this is for,” he says. “It’s for our students and future students and so our decisions, and the decisions that we’re asking the contractors to make, have to be about what’s going to be the best experience for students. That is why we’re doing what we’re doing.”


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