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Bear the Weight: With Cold-Formed Steel, Largest Student Housing Construction Project in U.S. History is Completed


By any owner’s standard, the true measure of a successful construction project is one that finishes on time and within budget. Any other scenario can turn into a real nightmare. But when a project the scale of Poly Canyon Village-820,000 square feet with 11,000 load-bearing wall panels-manages to shave six months off the original 20-month schedule, it’s more like a dream come true.

Spanning 30 acres at the base of the picturesque Poly Canyon, the Poly Canyon project is comprised of nine buildings, four and five stories over slabs or podiums, and adds nearly 2,700 new beds to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Poly Canyon Village is the largest cold-formed steel load-bearing project in California and the most sizable student housing complex ever undertaken by an American university in a single construction project. How did this project finish so early? Cold-formed steel, wood, and concrete masonry units were all initially considered for the project, but when the final decision came down to two designs (conventional wood and steel framing) steel won out.

“Steel framing was selected based on superior quality, performance, and other benefits to the owner such as lower construction costs, and it’s non-combustible,” says Kevin Greer, project executive from KHS&S Contractors Inc.

“Cold-formed steel framing was the primary factor in this job’s success,” says Mark Blackmon of Clark Design/Build of California, Inc. in Oakland, Calif. “The flexibility to pre-fabricate panels off-site definitely contributed to the project’s success, and the speed at which KHS&S was able to install the structures on site allowed for all the subcontractors to be productive.”

He also added that the efficiencies gained through pre-fabrication made it possible to start several components in several places at the same time, which significantly cut down on any potential downtime for workers and subcontractors. “We actually became a job where if a company didn’t have a lot of work, they could send them over here because we had plenty of places people could go and be productive.”

Jeff Heller, the program manager for Brookwood Program Management, agrees that the accelerated construction schedule resulting from steel framing’s panelization system was responsible for the earlier completion date that also resulted in saving money.

“There are a lot of cost advantages to finishing a project early. You save on labor which also reduces all of your overhead costs,” he says.

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