It’s the largest student housing project the United States has ever seen developed through a public-private partnership (P3) and The Weitz Company is turning units over early. The primary reasons: A fast-track design-build approach, great customer advocacy and heady strategic decisions.
A little over one year into the construction process, Texas A&M University students are already occupying a portion of Park West in College Station, Texas. Weitz has completed six out of 12 flats buildings on the project, opening 80 units and 144 beds in August with another 40 units and 72 beds delivered at the end of September. This initial milestone is validating the trust project developer Servitas had in selecting Weitz to build more than 1,300 units and 3,400 beds in the housing complex that will span 2.2 million square feet.
“Early turnover was not part of the original deal, but we uncovered how important it was to Servitas through good customer advocacy,” said Kevin McClain, president of Weitz’s Commercial business. “The advantages of early occupancy were expressed to us and we’ve worked collaboratively to accomplish it.”
To help Servitas attain this stretch goal, Weitz immediately went to work in preconstruction to identify critical schedule milestones and then implemented a fast-track methodology to achieve them. Some key factors included subcontractors design-build packages and subcontracting of major specialty items like large wood frames.
With firm commitments to Texas A&M for the project, Servitas approved this design-build delivery method as it enabled Weitz to provide cost certainty early in the process and minimized schedule risks for itself. While this approach was a significant gamble for both Weitz and PGAL (the architect for Park West) in the design phase, it allowed Servitas to seek optimal financing and begin construction sooner than what would have been possible in a construction management or hard bid delivery.
“Our previous experience with Servitas and transparent dealings that led to a fair contract gave us confidence in this plan and were key to getting a productive start on Park West,” McClain said.
Had Weitz not executed on its commitment to being good customer advocates, the opportunity to fulfill early occupancy may not have been possible since the original contract was for the project to be turned over all at once.
“Everything is relationship-based, understanding the customer and being a partner with them,” said Weitz Vice President Shane Bauer, who oversees senior living and student housing projects. “If we did not take the time to discover what was important beyond cost, quality and schedule, then it would have become very challenging to meet this expectation.”
Early occupancy was one of the top goals for Park West, which has a scheduled completion date of August 2017, but it was not the only ancillary project objective deemed valuable within the P3 between Servitas and Texas A&M. Customer advocacy also: 1) Identified the appropriate balance between local and national resources needed to drive the project efficiently; 2) Led to tailored communication within the P3 process Servitas and Texas A&M had structured; and 3) Created an engagement strategy with the students and potential residents of Park West. The net results have been resoundingly positive.
From a construction management perspective, it has enabled Weitz project executives to make swift, strategic decisions in a handful of situations because they already know what’s most important to the clients. It is also keeping uncontrollable variables like Mother Nature from hindering the project (there were 33 lost rain days in the first year that could have easily derailed the timeline). And it’s opened the door to several educational opportunities with Texas A&M engineering students via Oculus virtual tours, on-site classroom training and internship programs.
“The success of this project is measuring beyond the number of beds, types of amenities and square footage associated with it,” said Weitz Senior Project Manager Frank D’Ascanio. “We’re executing an elevated standard for building with a first-of-its-size housing project that is exceeding our clients’ expectations. That is the ultimate accomplishment.”