Industry partners help create one-of-a-kind opportunities for building construction programs

Commercial Construction Lab
UW-Platteville's Commercial Construction Lab

With the recent UW System Board of Regents approval of a Bachelor of Science in construction management at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, more students will have the opportunity to experience the university’s one-of-a-kind construction labs, including the newly launched Road and Infrastructure Construction Lab.

In 2016, UW-Platteville launched its Commercial Construction Lab, and two years later broke ground on the Road and Infrastructure Construction Lab, which students experienced for the first time last fall. According to Gretchen Bockenhauer, UW-Platteville lecturer of building construction management, both labs were made possible because of support from industry partners, and are the only facilities of their kind at a U.S. university.

For years, hands-on experience in the Building Construction Management and Building Construction Safety Management programs was based on residential construction. Faculty began hearing consistent feedback from industry professionals that new graduates – from any university – were lacking the actual commercial construction experience that is required to understand how something is built.

“Fifteen years ago, everyone knew parts and pieces of a building, but not as many people know that anymore,” said Mark Albers, associate professor in the Building Construction Management Program. Therefore, along with industry partners, UW-Platteville faculty set out to create a way for students to gain that hands-on commercial construction experience in a manageable, safe environment by creating the Commercial Construction Lab.

Likened to a “giant erector set,” the Commercial Construction Lab is a commercial building design that students construct and deconstruct each semester. It consists of six bays that focus on different fields of design, including a medical bay, commercial kitchen, storefront bay and mechanical room.

Because it is disassembled each semester, the lab requires unique design elements and occasional modifications, based on the students’ experiences each term. According to Albers, that is why UW-Platteville’s partnership with Delta 3 Engineering – a full service engineering and architecture firm based in Platteville – has proven instrumental to the success of this lab. At the inception of the project, Delta 3 Engineering donated their time to draft the design plans. They have since remained a strong partner in the project, continuing to donate their time and expertise by meeting regularly with faculty to respond to questions regarding the structural detail and make any necessary modifications.

Now in its fourth year, the Commercial Construction Lab has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both industry professionals and the students, according to Albers.

“The students like the experience of working with all the different construction applications – welding, bending steel and pouring concrete. It doesn’t mean a student is going to be doing that when they leave college, but as a project manager they need to understand the process that it takes to get to the final product and have exposure to all of the construction elements. It is a controlled environment where they can make manageable mistakes with very few consequences.”

Based on the success of the Commercial Construction Lab, the BCM and BCSM programs turned their attention to the creation of an additional lab – this time, offering students the opportunity to work with horizontal construction elements. The Road and Infrastructure Construction Lab, which is located next to the Commercial Construction Lab, offers students experience working with elements that a commercial building can’t – for example, underground utilities, storm sewers, grading and structures, such as a bridge. It will also offer students the opportunity to experience asphalt and concrete paving, sidewalk applications, and an understanding of erosion and traffic control.

IIW, P.C., an engineering, architecture, surveying and construction service firm based in Dubuque, Iowa, helped make the vision of this lab a reality by donating its time to designing and drafting plans for this project.

“IIW, P.C. has been a strong supporter of the UW-Platteville engineering programs for many years by donating, and being part of the Women in STEM programs and the engineering Senior Design projects,” said Bockenhauer. “They felt this was a great way to give back and be a part of the Building Construction Management programs as they have hired graduates from the program. IIW, P.C. understands the value of the hands-on experience and wants to keep the support of this new lab going. Without the industry support of companies like IIW, P.C. this Road and Infrastructure Lab would not be possible.”