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Giving new lift to a Houston icon

image The renovated University of Texas Health Science Center Tower. Photo courtesy of G. Lyon Photography Inc.

HOUSTON - The University Center Tower was built in 1975 and is a prominent landmark of the Texas Medical Center. It was originally built as the headquarters for Bud Adams of the Houston Oilers. Today, it is home to The University of Texas (UT) School of Biomedical Informatics, which is a rapidly growing secondary education program for UT Health.




    Expansion and interior build-out of one of Houston’s icons was long overdue. JE Dunn Construction, a third-generation family-owned corporation specializing in construction management on projects of every size, was up to the challenge. With 22 offices throughout the nation, JE Dunn Construction has been delivering construction services for the past 25 years.
    The University Center Tower Vertical Expansion included core and shell construction of a 43,230sf, two-story structure atop the existing seven-story parking structure. The new building ties into the existing main tower so it can be accessed through levels six and seven. To meet the structural requirements for a new structure on top of the existing garage, horizontal and vertical concrete beams were added.
    The new building’s exterior is stucco and contains 150 punched window openings with a TPO roof.
    The interior includes 39,259sf of classroom and office space with TerraMai wood paneling and over 5,000sf of dry-erase paint. Each office has interior window lights and a full glass door. The building contains a state-of-the-art AV system throughout.
    Because the current structure was built nearly 50 years ago, many of the challenges were due simply to the building’s age. 
    A 1970’s building does not have the structural capacity of today’s buildings. To safely assemble the structure on top of the existing building, point loading calculations were done for every piece of material and equipment prior to placing it on the jobsite. Several times, the team was forced to get creative to find lighter equipment than what would normally be chosen for a particular task. For instance, the steel was erected with a 4-ton Maeda deck crane. When the deck crane placed outriggers to pick up the steel, the outriggers were required to span over three joists in the deck below.
    The elevator provided was not large enough to handle sheetrock. There were no forklifts or hoists light enough and tall enough to move material between floors. The team rented a 1.5-ton walk behind forklift to move material between the two floors.
    Other challenges were presented by working in the medical center. The tight site left little room for laydown, dumpsters and deliveries. No road closures were allowed on Fannin Street except on weekends. Building on top of a parking garage while tying into a functioning medical office building required significant coordination with the building managers and occupants.
    To help coordinate some of the MEP challenges, we used laser scanning to identify the amount of room allowed for MEP, which was less than ideal. The team was able to laser scan the existing structure, use BIM to focus on the MEP placement, and take advantage of most walls not going to deck. JE Dunn was able to run the MEP simultaneously with the sheetrock framing to overlap work, thus saving materials and space.
    All the work on this project was done while the parking garage and adjacent existing tower were in use and fully occupied.
    Despite these obstacles, the JE Dunn team – supported by Project Manager Robin Webb, Superintendent Gabe Bitolas along with EYP’s expansion architect Robert Burrell and build-out architect Orisa Leiker – completed the project in 21 months at a cost of $10,379,000.
    The design team of EYP, MEP Engineer E&C Engineers and Structural Engineer Walter P. Moore were extremely helpful and available throughout the entire job. Complete transparency and communication was apparent at every stage of the process. As issues or questions arose, even during off-hours, the team made themselves available to get the job done. One example included the architect taking time out of her Saturday to FaceTime the team, while at her daughter’s swim lesson, to ensure the correct installation of the signage.
    JE Dunn Construction is a full-service general contractor with offices in Houston, Austin, Dallas and Oklahoma City. -cwm

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Carol Wiatrek meditor@constructionnews.net