Beyond higher ed buildings

How a construction management partner maximizes value and gives donors peace of mind
By: | Issue: October, 2018
September 19, 2018

Campus construction projects suggest growth and prominence in a time when higher education costs are rising, privatization is increasing and administrators are perpetually challenged to compete for resources and faculty.

When projects are carefully managed, they suggest vibrancy and viability to your most important customers: students, their families and, of course, donors.

Virginia Wesleyan University’s 10-year master plan was approved by the board of trustees in February 2017. Since then, key recommendations have already had a visible impact on campus.

To manage this transforming work and to ensure we satisfactorily stewarded our donor dollars for capital projects funded entirely through gifts, we tapped the expertise of a single construction partner.

Virginia-based Hourigan has overseen all our master plan projects, including:

  • 44,000-square-foot environmental sciences center
  • a new fine and performing arts center
  • a multipurpose athletic field with synthetic turf
  • a 400-meter track and field facility
  • a YMCA summer camp facility
  • a renovation of a historic bell tower

After nearly four years of working on these projects, we have learned valuable lessons on how a successful relationship between an institution and its construction partner can lead to productive collaboration on a campus master plan.

Invite construction representatives to the table from the start

Years before Virginia Wesleyan developed the master plan, Hourigan provided pre-construction estimates and consulting for the new fine and performing arts center. The firm was later contracted to build the multipurpose, synthetic-turf field.

When the master planning process began, Hourigan worked with our consultants, Derck & Edson, to provide pricing estimates on numerous projects. That process established a trusted, collaborative relationship between the company and the university.

Maintain an on-campus presence

As we began implementing the master plan, the board’s directive was for the university to not only build or enhance facilities, but also to maximize donor dollars. The construction manager, therefore, played an active role in meeting with campus leaders and donors.

With a construction manager onsite, our key constituencies have known that their dollars are being properly managed. This results in donor trust—and often in new gifts for other projects.

Find efficiencies

Hourigan also managed many smaller enhancements while constructing the university’s larger projects. This has allowed us to take advantage of efficiencies in manpower, cost and schedules, and of the company’s knowledge of the university’s infrastructure and systems.

For example, Hourigan has replaced 60 percent of sidewalks, removed vines from trees, added parking lots, installed storm drains and waterproofed buildings. Hourigan also relocated a recreational climbing tower and moved the iconic Virginia Wesleyan Marlin sculpture to the front entrance.

Move beyond building buildings

Part of the role of an on-campus construction management partner is becoming deeply involved in public events, campus ceremonies and marketing. Construction officials can help university leaders showcase buildings through hard-hat tours, groundbreakings, beam signings, time-capsule placements, and aerial coverage from drones.

Beautiful buildings and the activities that happen inside them are any university’s greatest recruitment asset and a prime marketing tool.

Virginia Wesleyan’s relationship with a single construction management partner continues to demonstrate to our many audiences that we are a reliable and viable campus. As buildings rise and ribbons get ceremoniously cut, that message remains a constant force, offering numerous financial and logistical benefits.


Scott D. Miller is president of Virginia Wesleyan University.