Aptitude completes student housing projects in time for fall semester

November 9, 2023

It’s no surprise that the generation who grew up with smart phones expects a technology-rich campus life. A focus on technology integration and planning is critical to creating an environment where the bandwidth can power students’ school projects, social feeds, and video games simultaneously. Aptitude has several student housing projects currently under construction and recently completed two of them in time for the fall semester, The Broadview at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Baylor Collins Hall at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“As much as any other job we work on, higher education projects are also evolving,” said John Cooper, East Region & Healthcare Operations Director for Aptitude. “Technology systems can no longer be an after-thought. These systems directly affect the user experience and must be planned in advance. It’s not enough to think about these various low-voltage systems after the fact anymore; a technology integrator is imperative.”

“Technology systems are advancing at such a fast pace that our customers have realized the value in our integrated technology approach and commissioning process,” added Aptitude South Central Operations Director Sean Graham. “To date, we have two additional student housing technology projects in the early phases of construction at Baylor University.”

The Broadview at Vanderbilt:

The Broadview at Vanderbilt is a new two-tower student housing property, designed specifically for graduate and professional students. It houses 616 students in a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments. The property also features amenities open to the surrounding campus community, such as a public courtyard, fitness center and gathering areas for students to study and collaborate.

Aptitude was tasked with creating seamless technology connections throughout the building that would adhere to the client’s sustainability goals while considering the property’s aesthetics. Our scope of work included structured cabling, access-controlled doors, video surveillance, audio visual systems, emergency responder radio communications, and code blue emergency phones.

Aptitude Superintendent for the project, Clint Dennison, said that one of the unique features about this building is the first floor is intended to be a collaborative space for any Vanderbilt graduate student to work together and study. This welcoming amenity required an extra step in project coordination so that both residents as well as non-resident students could use card readers to enter the building.

“We needed to make sure the resident card readers and the second card reader at the doors could both talk to the building network, so we worked with Vanderbilt’s IT team to help integrate the two systems,” said Dennison.

Dennison also noted that the building is almost entirely wireless, an evolution from even a few years ago when a similar project may have had ports for hardline connections, such as cable TV, in every unit.

“The days of coax cable and cable TV providers is going away,” he said. “These days it’s trending toward completely wireless systems for streaming services and more bandwidth.”

Dennison said what lead to the project’s success was constant collaboration and good relationships amongst stakeholders, Vanderbilt University, owner Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions, JE Dunn, and various trade partners. He said he enjoyed how involved the owner was on the project so he could have regular conversations and make sure the project goals were being met.

“Working with Aptitude streamlines communication and understanding of low-voltage systems,” said Drew Emerson, JE Dunn Group Manager 2 who led construction for the Vanderbilt project. “Aptitude has project managers who work directly with owners to understand specific needs and provide solutions tailored to those needs. This is achieved with direct, transparent communication, avoiding the traditional hassle of multiple layers of contractors and subcontractors to reach the source of truth. In every case I’m aware of, owners have been delighted with the understanding, options and pricing provided by Aptitude for low-voltage solutions on their projects.”

“Aptitude is a home run vendor partner. They are always part of the solution and ready to assist in any way that gets the project to a successful conclusion. I highly recommend them on any future projects,” said David Vogt of Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions.

Baylor Collins Hall:

Baylor Collins Hall has been home to many of the freshman women at Baylor University for 70 years, and the building was due for an update. This remodel meant that the existing structure would remain, but much of the interior would be upgraded – including modernizing the technology.

Aptitude managed this technology overhaul project, including IT infrastructure, card access system for the doors in the building, a fire alarm system, video surveillance, and emergency responder radio communications.

“We added over 460 thousand feet of fiber and 230 thousand feet of Cat6 cable as well as wireless access points in every student unit to provide better network coverage and accessibility than they previously had,” said Senior Project Manager Carlos Morales. “We also upgraded the card access on all student unit doors. The university wanted to maintain the old doors and frames on the exterior doors, so it was more complex than a new construction project.”

Morales said one of the challenges of the project was addressing scope gaps between the design and the project goals early to avoid costly adds and delays later. He worked closely with the university’s IT and security team to ensure campus-wide standards were being met and adjusted drawings to reflect those standards, including the types of cameras and door hardware that would be used on the job.

“Our goal was to have a firm understanding of what Baylor needed and address those needs in our drawings and specs so nothing would be missed in the field,” he said.

Morales noted that student housing projects are similar to hospitality or multi-family buildings in scope, yet they also differ. The opening date can sometimes shift but student move-in date must remain firm, and everything must work when the students arrive. With the support of fellow Aptitude team members, the project was completed on time, even when extra support was needed to stay on track.

“This was my first Aptitude project, and I appreciated the teamwork and support from everyone involved that helped make it a success,” said Morales. “Rob Kennedy was assigned for the final two months to support the commissioning process and close out for Collins Hall.”

Baylor Collins Hall was the first of several projects that JE Dunn and Aptitude are working to renovate on the Baylor University campus, and the beginning of a strong partnership. JE Dunn Senior Project Manager Bo Guydosh said he has enjoyed working with the university’s staff and appreciates the supportive and positive relationship they’ve built. This project needed to be fast-paced to finish it in time for the school year. While it was at times stressful, the client was very encouraging, which helped the team to deliver, he said.

“Aptitude executed very well on a compressed timeframe. The building works on day one,” added Mark McElroy, JE Dunn Group Manager 2, based in Dallas. “Sean and his team did a good job of explaining the process, selling what they would do, the procurement process, how they would work with any of the IT group’s preferred vendors,” he said. “Those conversations occurring early with IT is what Aptitude needs to be successful.”