UO Housing’s Capital Construction gives students hands-on experience
The construction of new buildings and the renovations of old ones is happening left and right on campus. The University of Oregon opened its 10th residence hall this past fall, broke ground on the Knight Science Campus and demolished Hayward Field to build a new stadium for the 2021 World Track and Field Championships. But amidst the construction, tucked away on the ground floor of Bean Hall West is the UO Housing Capital Construction office, where a team of five students works with UO Housing on capital projects on campus.
“Projects range from paint and carpet to conceptual designs of buildings,” said David Opp-Beckman, housing facilities capital projects manager and supervisor of the student team.
As Capital Construction waits for its office to be completed in Bean East, the team is using the future craft room in Bean West. The temporary office holds a large conference table, a TV, a wall of textile books and four workspaces that are made up of fold-out plastic tables with desktop computers at each station. The largest of the four workspaces belongs to Opp-Beckman.
“I love to encourage dreams, but they also have to be able to answer ‘What is it going to cost?’ and ‘How long is it going to last?’” said Opp-Beckman.
Five years ago Opp-Beckman partnered with the College of Design to find a new way to engage students. The first project Opp-Beckman recalls doing with the Capital Construction team is creating residential hall identities, which included boards for each residence hall with carpet samples, paint swatches, photos, and color schemes. “Blue, green, brown” read Hamilton Hall’s board, which is displayed in the office.
Students on the team have flexible hours but typically work 10-12 hours per week during the school year and up to 40 hours a week in the summer. Though the students don’t earn any college credit, they have a paid part-time job and gain hours of experience. These hours can be significant for some students. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Board, those wanting to become licensed should complete The Architectural Experience Program (AXP), which includes a 3,740 hour experience requirement.
Stacks of black wall signs to be put in Bean Hall covered the conference table in the office. Some have a four-digit room number with braille underneath and others have floor numbers or were bathroom signs. Irikaa Pilania, a graduate student on the Capital Construction team helped design some of Bean Hall’s furniture including the signs.
“After we choose the furniture, we get to go out and call vendors for products and sometimes we see product launches,” said Pilania.
When the furniture for Bean Hall arrives, one of Pilania and other team members’ responsibilities will be to assure everything was delivered and is correct, said Opp-Beckman.
Each student on the team typically has their own project, and rarely does the entire team work on the same one. In addition to Bean Hall’s furniture design, Pilania is designing the seating in the soon-to-be renovated Knight Library Cafe.
Another graduate student on the Capital Construction team, Alexa Stewart, is currently working on a project for Earl Hall. What started as a window leak complaint led to a long-term “replacement skin,” a redesign for the building’s exterior. Senior Stella Christ is working on a renovation in Carson Hall, which will include “creating a new look” and turning the laundry rooms into lounge or study spaces.
Stewart usually gets to the office around 7:45 a.m. and leaves around 4 p.m. Her day consists of computer-aided design (CAD), drawing, research, site visits and making changes when parameters shift, “which they do, always” the Capital Construction students collectively agreed.
“You really learn how to be adaptable,” said Stewart.
Christ said it’s nice to get to experience the real-life thing instead of theoretical ideas that typically happen in a classroom.
“They learn about cost and durability of furniture and fabric, create bulletproof things, and have be be cost-conscious through it all…they take a designer’s vision and blend with it,” said Linda Zimmer, associate professor and head of interior architecture.
The Capital Construction team works under UO Housing so maintaining strong relationships with residence life, custodial services and dining services is important to the team said Opp-Beckman.
“David will come to me about positions he needs for his team and I help get the word out,” said Zimmer, who recommended four people to Capital Construction this past year.
When Opp-Beckman is first approached with a project, the first step is a meeting with the students on the Capital Construction team. Next, he said, they establish loose parameters. Opp-Beckman is typically on-site and not in the office so the students are able to work independently.
“This is a reflection of the work that we could be doing in the real world, except we get to dabble in new things and be in the familiarity of campus,” said Stewart, who previously worked in an architecture firm for two years. “You can’t get any closer to the hands on architecture experience; we’re in the thick of it.”
A monthly meeting with Opp-Beckman is held to check on progress and to regroup as a team.
“Things are never a one-person decision because there’s always many factors involved and people making sure you have all your boxes checked,” said Stewart.
One of the team’s recently completed projects was the conceptual design of Kalapuya-Ilihi. The task was to create the “best room design that can be a single, double or triple.” The team created two versatile room designs, but received a call with a change to the parameters.
“…when more rooms had to be changed into triples, we were able to confidently do it,” said Opp-Beckman.
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