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Student Housing Counts on Cold-Formed Steel for Safety and Sustainability

Student housing must be constructed against tight budgets and timeline constraints. Learn how cold-formed steel framing can help solve these challenges.


Much like the New Urbanism neighborhoods and transit-oriented development on the rise across the U.S., college dormitories increasingly reflect national housing trends that focus on community, access, and sustainability. Higher education institutions also seek to create environments that, in addition to being safe and nurturing for young adults going through a major life transition, appeal to their desire for environmental stewardship. These institutions are often challenged to balance such development against tight budgets and timeline constraints. In addition, the general demand for apartments is rising. According to a recent report, we’ll need to build 4.6 million new apartments between now and 2030 to keep up with the growing demand.

As a result, cold-formed steel construction has been increasingly used as a safe, sustainable, and cost-effective way to meet the complex challenges of student housing environments.

Safety Standards

Above all, safety is a key factor in choosing cold-formed steel as a framing material. Unlike some other construction materials, cold-formed steel is 100 percent noncombustible. It can be an integral part of the overall defense against fire damage to a structure — whether occupied or under construction.

In fact, fire safety made headlines recently in College Park, Maryland, where a 275-unit wood-framed student housing complex suffered $39 million in fire damage while under construction.

CFS is noncombustible, making it eligible for use in Type I buildings, where fire-resistance standards are most stringent.

Construction Challenges Conquered

When it comes to construction on college campuses, contractors face numerous challenges, including the urgent push to be ready by the start of the school year.

Such was the case for the Sheridan College student residence in Ontario, Canada. Construction began in the fall of 2012 and continued through a tough Canadian winter where temperatures remained below 20 degrees Farenheit. Despite the extreme cold, CFS framing continued to be installed during this time and allowed construction to stay on schedule. According to the contractors, “This would not have been possible using other systems.” One of the benefits of using CFS framing in winter was that the contractors didn’t have to install heating, which would have been necessary with other concrete or masonry. And, the college gained further savings by shaving down construction time.

The Eliot B. Dormitory (part of the Washington University, St. Louis, South 40 redevelopment project) was also able to meet construction challenges by using CFS framing. The dormitory is an infill structure in a series of student residences that comprise a new student center.

Due to the extremely tight job site, the contractor was challenged with staging, delivering, hoisting, and installing CFS factory-built wall panels and roof trusses with minimal interruption to campus life. Sections of the roof were pre-assembled before being delivered to the jobsite, ready to be lifted right into place. The accuracy of the pre-assembled trusses helped ensure there were no significant obstacles or delays. In fact, use of these trusses allowed for the production schedule to be reduced from 16 to 12 weeks.

A Matter of Time

Timing is everything in the realm of student housing. Beating the odds and cutting six months off the original 20-month schedule, Poly Canyon Village was the largest cold-formed steel load-bearing project in the state of California and the most sizable student housing complex ever undertaken in a single project by a U.S. university.

“Cold-formed steel framing was the primary factor in this job’s success,” said Mark Blackmon of Clark Design/Build of California. He explained that the ability to prefabricate CFS panels off-site increased the project’s efficiency. Ultimately, the panelization system and earlier completion date resulted in significant financial savings.

Environmental Stewardship

Then there’s the sustainability factor. According to Mark Cunnigham, director of housing and dining at the University of California, San Diego, prospective students and parents are increasingly inquiring about sustainability. While many college campuses have traditionally promoted sustainability through recycling programs and trash cleanup efforts, many campuses are taking an even bigger step toward environmental friendliness. Creating “green” residence halls can attract eco-minded students and demonstrate the university’s forward thinking.

CFS framing can help colleges move toward “greener” construction, as it meets the highest sustainability requirements set in all major green building standards and rating programs, including National Green Building Standard (ICC-700) for residential buildings, ASHRAE Standard 189.1 for commercial construction, the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® program. Every piece contains recycled steel and is 100 percent recyclable at the end of its long service life.

On college campuses where construction, safety, operational, and environmental considerations converge, CFS delivers a high level of structural performance and integrity, helping educational institutions meet the needs of their diverse student communities.

Need help with the planning or design process for a CFS-framed student housing project? Contact us for complimentary project assistance.

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