Keeping Your Eye on the Build: Delivering Sports Facilities that Win

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 6 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

Lauren Snedeker, a DPR Construction senior project manager, discusses trends she has seen while working with higher education customers on how schools can build facilities that boost their sports programs. Across DPR’s projects, she has seen how everyone from the school to athletes to spectators experience these facilities and how delivering them requires collaboration, trust, and flexibility to build a resilient facility for student-athletes and fans. As these facilities become ever more complex, project teams require technical experience to ensure that they are meeting customer expectations with on-time delivery, while staying on budget.

Lauren Snedeker headshot
Lauren Snedeker, senior project manager at DPR Construction.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in higher education sports facilities?

Students, faculty, and staff expect innovative buildings that fit their future needs and visions and athletic facilities are no different. Sports facilities are major revenue generators for universities and colleges; having updated stadium seats, donor suites, locker rooms, AV systems and more can be useful for fundraising, recruiting, and creating an exciting atmosphere. It is a great time for those upgrades and renovations to create resilient and flexible strategies while focusing on quality control and mapping out future maintenance strategies.

The first big trend we are seeing is construction and design in support of the idea of the “whole athlete.” Folks are starting to ask the question, “How can we enhance the experience for the student while making sure the project isn’t overly technical or too focused on a particular sport?” Sometimes, we forget that the focus should be on the students, student-athletes, student volunteers, student assistance and catering to provide a space that’s well rounded.

The second trend we are seeing is focused on sports medicine. Athletes, statistically, will injure themselves at least once during their college career, depending on what kind of sport they're playing. How do we provide a healthcare space to aid in recovery? These projects have a certain drive to enhance those facilities.

As a general contractor, it's nice to say, “Let us share our experiences and what lessons we have learned from them. Some of those lessons can guide everything from design to construction, whether it’s design-build or CM at risk. Let us partner with you and the design team aligning together on your vision.”

Recovery room FAU
Sports facilities are where student-athletes train, play and recover. Courtesy of Clark Grant

DPR has its core markets. Are we drawing knowledge from each to guide us as we build these facilities?

I think that is my favorite aspect of higher education construction. Within higher education, you can hit every single one of DPR’s core markets. Sports facilities are where student-athletes train, play and recover. These facilities house healthcare spaces for recovery, office spaces for coaches and stakeholders, complex MEP systems, and audio/visual electrical infrastructure that require extensive coordination and collaboration to build. The current project I am working on is a 160,000-sq.-ft. sports facility that houses a 22,000-sq.-ft. sports medicine space, which requires healthcare experience. We are building meeting rooms and offices--that's commercial construction. There is a massive audio/visual system with complex electrical needs that align with our advanced technology experience. We want to leverage all of our knowledge to contribute to a successful project.

In the wake of the pandemic, where are customers needing the most support?

A lot of what we've been doing recently with our sports facility projects and higher ed customers is sensitive. Everyone in the industry has experienced the effects of the pandemic and the influence it has on our customers. Our job now is to show them that we respect the struggles they might be facing. We have focused our conversations on ways we can provide the most impact to the school while respecting their allocated budgets. You would be surprised what a coat of paint and a revamped graphic or a well-placed television can do to a space. We want to show our customers that we can capitalize on our subcontractors’ relationships in the market, have open discussions on what is important to them and their needs, and assist in planning larger discussions with all partners. Having conversations about adaptive reuse and finding ways to upgrade the space to make it feel new is a great way to support these universities. The question is, how can we help them spend it in a way that gets the best value and prepare them for the future? Showing the client they can trust us and that we can be a partner is our goal on every project.

Lecture Hall
The Schmidt Family Complex plays a central role in elevating Florida Atlantic University's (FAU) academic and athletic standing while helping student-athletes reach their greatest potential. Courtesy of Clark Grant

As we discuss the mindset of putting our customers’ student experience first while also serving different populations, what third-party players can we include in the early conversations to act as consultants in the early stages of construction? Is there an example of where we’ve helped create those relationships to move on to the other projects?

A recent stadium project was design-build and we selected a design partner early on.

One of the things we did when we started the process was to have a real conversation with the customer around the pros and cons of their current design. Based on that discussion, we were able to introduce them to a new code consultant who saved them over $1 million—and have gone on to probably save them countless dollars later as they've developed other projects and created their own direct relationship with them.

Relationships with audiovisual designers and graphic designers are relationships that will follow a general contractor across the country if needed. It’s a two-way street for us and our third-party consultants. As a general contractor, we want to maintain good relationships, and that means getting our partners opportunities that provide benefits and make our customers happy. Overall, the construction industry is already such a tight-knit community.

Sanford Stadium West End Zone
The Sanford Stadium project consists of three main areas of improvement to enhance the game-day experience for the student-athletes, recruits and their families, and spectators. Courtesy of Christy Radecic Photography

You mentioned that the last sports facility project was a design-build contract. Is that normal for projects of those sizes, or were they one-offs? Does it seem like more customers are getting into that type of contract vehicle? Is this market, this type of space, a good candidate for that expertise or that type of contract?

I've done design-build work on campuses throughout the Southeast. Due to the facilities being speed-to-market sensitive, design-build is a great model to utilize. One of the biggest benefits for the architect and customer with this model is the ability to provide real-time cost. One of the biggest methods is to do the constructability reviews together as one team and giving third-party partners feedback in real-time. In the grand scheme of things, we are the advocates in the room. If we need to call our subcontractors or get a new sample, we will do it in order to honor the aesthetic the customer is going for. In a design-build model, we act as the checks and balances and help our customers be true to who they are, what they want, and how they want to operate.

Have the pandemic and the material supply chain disruptions that have been going on affected the way you approach current and future projects?

One thing we did on a project that started back in January of 2020 was to have a very transparent conversation with the customers around resource procurement and to make sure they approved everything that needed to be purchased in an aggressive and timely manner. For example, when the steel shortage issue occurred and construction teams couldn’t get their hands on the material, our team was able to plan with the customer and project team to have steel ready for us. Our intention from the start of the project was to get ahead of the supply chain issue as much as possible. By leveraging our data, sourcing, procurement, logistics and warehousing capabilities, DPR was able to advise on strategies to maximize supply chain efficiencies that increase value for customers while creating that competitive advantage. The fact that we were transparent and provided insight into what was happening in terms of accruing materials, along with helping customers think about the current and future state of their projects, allowed us to reduce costs, buy at the right time, and reduce escalation allowances, thus improving overall project performance.

Sanford Stadium West End Zone Dawg Walk
As these facilities become ever more complex, project teams require technical experience to ensure that they are meeting customer expectations with on-time delivery, while staying on budget. Courtesy of Christy Radecic Photography