Planning Carle at the Fields Administrative Office
LCM Partner Casey Burch AIA, PMP, LEED AP sits down with us to share his experience managing the new 280,000 sf Carle at the Fields Administrative Office Center, designed by LCM.
Our Q and A conversation focuses on goals, process, and solutions to challenges that ultimately contributed to the project’s success.
Why did Carle Foundation decide to commission a brand new building?
The Carle Foundation is a strong presence and a major employer in the Urbana-Champaign community. The not-for-profit owns Carle Foundation Hospital, a 413-bed regional care hospital in Urbana, which is the area’s only level 1 trauma center. The Foundation is the parent of Carle Physical Group and Heath Alliance Medical Plans.
Carle was leasing more than 350,000 sf of office space in 10 locations for over 1,200 employees. With its mission to provide the best care to all, Carle has always felt an obligation to preserve resources to devote to patient care. They took a look at the benefits of consolidating their separate departments and concluded that having one Carle-owned, efficiently engineered building made good financial sense. It would save on energy and operational costs, plus having employees from all their business operations – such as IT, accounting, human resources, Health Alliance – under one roof was a model for greater productivity and efficiency.
What were the biggest challenges for this project?
Transforming a soybean field into an office complex ready for 1,200+ employees in less than 22 months is an aggressive schedule. I’d say that was the biggest challenge for the whole team and influenced many of the design decisions.
At the same time, Carle was bringing together different business operations in one building. As architects, we had to balance the various needs while considering the specific amenities our client had in mind to give their employees a quality work environment. That list included abundant daylight, energy efficiencies, onsite food service, and biking and hiking trails.
How did you deal with the challenge of such a tight schedule?
The project team for the new administrative office center agreed to apply some principles of an Integrated Project Delivery approach as the most productive and efficient strategy to meet the tight schedule and other project goals. I am a huge proponent of this approach, as is Berglund Construction, the general contractor for the project.
Having a well-staffed project team in place at the very beginning fostered open communication, mutual respect, and trust, all ingredients for a successful project. Design is not just the responsibility of the architect and engineers, but ideally is a joint effort involving decisive direction from the Owner and full cooperation from the experts in the field who are responsible for getting the project built.
All team members were willing and able to respond to information requests promptly – sometimes at all hours of the day or night – to facilitate decision-making and keep the work flowing on the site.
Talk about design process and the team.
Fortunately, we were not exactly starting with a blank slate, which saved time. Carle had a clear vision to guide the design direction for its new building, which was to be a flexible, efficient, low maintenance facility that reinforces Carle’s brand. That, combined with specific program requirements we worked out with the owner, gave us a good starting point.
It is not unusual to design for different needs in a building, but it takes thought and technical skill to find a workable solution that matches a client’s vision. In Carle’s case, some functions lend themselves to open office configurations that promote innovation and collaboration. On the other hand, a traditional private office format is more suitable for other functions, where confidentiality and greater intimacy are appropriate.
We solved this dichotomy by designing a deep floor plate for wide expanses of flexible, open office space with private offices and support functions at the core. Even with the deep bays, there’s plenty of light from the tall storefront windows.
Bringing the contractor on board early in the design process was critical to help shape a design that would be buildable within the aggressive time frame.
Watch this video for more insights on the integrative project process.
How did the decision to bring the contractor on board early in the project affect the design and construction process?
Berglund’s top level management was involved in the project planning from the get-go. Their senior staff attended weekly design development meetings, providing real-time cost validation and budget control. Particularly once construction was underway, design revisions could be quickly subjected to subcontractor vetting and constructability analysis. As a collaborative team, we were watching out for the design integrity of the building, but also finding solutions for design details that could be built in a timely manner and without breaking the budget.
With such an aggressive schedule, it is critical to have seamless field oversight. Berglund’s Senior Project Manager was relocated to Champaign for the duration of the project. He was on site every day, relaying daily progress to the owner and flagging any problems that needed the immediate attention of other team members.
What are some examples of time-saving and cost-effective design decisions that the team made together?
After consulting with Berglund, we decided to use thin brick clad precast instead of traditional brick. This not only reduced construction costs, but also reduced installation time to shave months off the schedule.
The precast contractor’s large-scale mockup helped the team simplify details, which reduced fabrication and installation costs. The team’s 3D design models and BIM capabilities were invaluable tools to quickly make mechanical and electrical coordination design decisions that drove construction flow and prevented schedule slippage. For environmental comfort and energy efficiency, the building is designed with fine-tuned Building Automation Systems that provide temperature, security, fire safety, HVAC, and lighting controls for the entire facility. Getting this core data network to be operational while construction was going on was a challenge. Continuous, clear communication between Berglund, the design engineers, the Owner’s IT managers, suppliers, and structured cabling contractors was absolutely necessary to keep 130+ tradesmen productive.
How would you sum up the project?
It was truly a dream team where each individual’s talent was put to the best use and integrated into a united, multi-disciplinary effort. Project managers had the strong soft skills to allow the team to “play nice in the sandbox” and fully display Carle Foundation’s values of Integrity, Collaboration, Accountability, Respect and Excellence (ICARE) throughout the design and construction process.