University of South Florida


USF construction sites inspire interactive classroom experience

USF is taking advantage of some of its current construction projects to offer students who are interested in architecture and engineering a unique interdisciplinary learning opportunity. The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Experience, coordinated by USF Facilities Management, is leading site tours and interactive sessions for the future homes of the Judy Genshaft Honors College, the Athletics Indoor Performance Facility and the Student Wellness Center. Students are also learning about the Southeast Chiller Plant, which is being expanded to support the new buildings’ infrastructure.

“What better classroom than the real world,” said Stephen Lafferty, USF Design and Construction director. “We have an unusual situation where we have four significant projects, all at the same time and within a block and a half of each other, so we decided to do some student tours and it snowballed from there.”

After suggesting the tours, Lafferty worked with various members of the project team to create a comprehensive learning experience from the radically different projects. Each site offers distinct differences and challenges.

“We have everything from a cast-in-place structure system to a steel frame to a pre-engineered metal building,” said Lafferty.

Students interested in engineering and architecture tour one of four constructions sites as part of the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Experience.

The AEC Experience is presenting the materials in four sessions each semester through December 2022, when the projects are expected to be completed. Students who complete the program requirements each semester will receive a digital badge supported by Credly, a global credentialing program, which will enhance their professional profiles.

So far, nearly 100 students have toured the sites. During the first round of tours, students learned about different welding processes, support structures and footings.

“I really wanted to see what it was like to be on the job site, get my feet in the mud and check out all the supports, meet some civil engineers and just ask questions,” said Grant Ballard, a mechanical engineering student from the College of Engineering.

Aside from the tours and online sessions, students who sign up for the program have access to the project plans, where they can learn about the unique features of each site and meet project management and design teams who are in careers that students will potentially pursue. Students will also be able to observe everything from the metal studs to the drywall finishing through a regularly updated link that offers a virtual reality walk-around experience.

Students interested in engineering and architecture tour one of four constructions sites as part of the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Experience.

“A lot of things that we are doing in these projects are not only unique in the industry but most students would not get to learn some of this, or even see this first-hand probably until four or five years after graduation. Some of the stuff that we are doing, after practicing for 35 years, I had never seen before,” Lafferty said.

The Judy Genshaft Honors College, designed by the internationally recognized architectural firm Morphosis, in partnership with the local firm FlesichmanGarcia Architects and Planners, will be a five-story, 85,000-square-foot facility that features an outdoor amphitheater and multiple flexible spaces with advanced technology to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. The Athletics Indoor Performance Facility will have 88,000 square feet of climate-controlled training space, large screens, state-of-the-art sound systems and large openings so that student-athletes can easily access outside fields. The three-story, 47,000-square-foot Student Wellness Center is designed with input from health providers to enhance how students receive health care. Plans for the building include special air handling units and urgent care suites that prevent air from recirculating, which is imperative in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Southeast Chiller Plant enhancement, one of three main plants on campus that help regulate temperature and humidity in all the buildings, will add a fourth bay to install massive new units.

Stephen Lafferty, USF Design and Construction director, and a group of students touring construction sites on the Tampa campus.

The online sessions will highlight key aspects and challenges of the projects. Contractors and other industry professionals have been invited to lead lectures and cover specifics about structural systems, engineering decisions, project delivery methods and electrical and mechanical systems installed later. Each of the sites provides students with access to cutting-edge construction methods, progressive building techniques and behind-the-scenes- decision making for meeting environmental sustainability targets using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) frameworks, the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

“It’s really been a lot of fun and the students seem incredibly interested and receptive,” Lafferty said.

While not managed by USF Administrative Services, construction of the new Research Park Innovation building is underway. The 120,000-square-foot, three-story building is expected to be completed later this year and will house laboratory facilities, office and meeting space for innovators and both established and startup companies, as well as retail and dining options.

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