First LMS of 2019 Discusses Higher Ed

By Tasha Anderson for Arizona Builder’s Exchange

BEX Events kicked off the first Leading Markert Series of the New Year with a bang by discussing the Higher Education market.

More than 100 attendees gathered at ASU Skysong 3 on Wednesday, February 6, for the sold-out event to gain insight into any upcoming projects as well as how to do business with Higher Education owners.

AZBEX Founder and President, Rebekah Morris began the presentation by giving the attendees a brief overview of the market, including top players, with analytics taken from the AZBEX Database.

“In our Database… we have this totaling at $4.4B,” explained Morris. “This is a long-range outlook; some of these projects are very long term. But, out of our entire $80B-plus we have in our Database, Higher Education is $4.4B or 18.4 percent of the total market.”

Morris went on to list the top owners by project valuation in the market, which unsurprisingly was University of Arizona at 35 percent, Arizona State University at 32 percent and Northern Arizona University at 18 percent. She also noted that 37 percent of projects have not yet selected a design firm, and 41 percent have not yet selected a general contractor, meaning that there is still a lot of opportunity.

After the quick rundown of the market, an impressive panel consisting of Rachel Green Rasmussen, principal architect for Architekton, Bruce Nevel, associate VP for Facilities Development & Management with Arizona State University, and Bill Ward, vice chancellor, Facilities & College Police with Pima Community College, with moderator Cassie Robertson, preconstruction manager for DPR Construction, took the stage to talk more about the Higher Education market.

Special Sauce to Win Projects

A big question is always, “how do I win this project?” Or, as Robertson put it, “what is the special sauce to win the project?” And the answer, according to the panel, is to build relationships and be the firm owners can count on.

“What ASU is looking for is a strategic partner,” explained Nevel. “Somebody that truly has done their homework and knows the goals of the University. What we’re looking for is someone who is not going to come in and point out the differences and change order me to death. They’re going to connect the dots and… when there is a problem, they don’t just dump it on us, they come with a solution.”

Nevel also gave advice on what a firm outside of Arizona can do to increase their chances of winning an ASU project.

“There has to be a demonstration of proven past performance,” he said. “If you’re somebody from outside the area… you’re going to have to prove to us that not only were you successful in California or Texas, but that’s the same team we’re going see.”

Although Ward must go through the elected governing board to choose a team for a project, he tries to build relationships with teams and he wants a firm that can take ownership of the project.

While Nevel and Ward shared what types of firms they were looking for, Rasmussen noted the importance of bringing passion into each project from an architectural standpoint.

“Getting out there, making connections, understanding that, obviously this business is rooted in personal connections, but it’s also rooted in working hard because you’re passionate about the mission,” Rasmussen said. “When you’re creating proposals, when you’re going to interviews… when you’re sitting in front of people that, this is their day to day, this is their funding that they spent years writing grants for and this is their one chance to do it, they want to know that you’re as passionate about the end goal as they are.”

Biggest Challenges

One of the biggest challenges in Higher Education that was mentioned is the money. While there’s several funding sources for the market, such as levying taxes, enrollment, grants and bonds, and others, the funds are not always flowing.

“What really hurt Pima is, because of the crash that happened years ago, it really killed our enrollment and so it really affected our funding sources when it related to our student population,” explained Ward.

“How I’ve been adapting is, we’ve just been working as hard as we possibly can,” he said. “We spread the money around, we go where the problems are. I take care of what we got with the dollars that we have.”

ASU adapts by being creative with their funding sources, like using more public-private partnerships and donations, as well as enrollment and research.

Nevel and Rasmussen both agreed that another challenge working in the market is the number of stakeholders on a project and the lack of a streamlined process.

“I think the biggest challenge is decision-making,” said Rasmussen. “Essentially you have this very high profile project (ISTB 7) and it has a lot of pressure on it to be this really incredible gateway into the Tempe campus, and so everyone is feeling that pressure and making sure that we’re all making the best decision possible on how to spend the dollars and that we’re all on the same page.”

Last but Certainly Not Least

Toward the end of the presentation, attendees were given exactly what they came for… information on upcoming projects.

ASU began with an impressive list of projects in both the planning and design stages, while also giving attendees a look at projects that are under consideration.

Some of the new projects in the planning stage include:

  • New residence halls at the Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic and Tempe campuses – according to Nevel, the residence hall at the polytechnic campus already has a developer in place while the other two are still being discussed.
  • Sun Devil Stadium 365 – also known as “phase four”, it will be right on the heels of the phase three expansion and is to add to the stadium for multi-use purposes rather than just one sport.
  • West Campus Learning Futures Studio Building – ASU has received donor interest in funding a 50KSF, two-story building at the West campus.
  • East Athletic Village Fields – ASU will be closing their golf course at the Tempe campus and building new athletic facilities on what was once the golf course.

Some projects in the design stage include:

  • ASU @ Mesa City Center
  • ISTB 7
  • Thunderbird School of Global Management Relocation
  • Wells Fargo Renovation and new Multi-Sports Arena

Nevel also touched on the developments associated with Novus Phase 3 including a new office building, multifamily housing and retail, a new hotel and the Novus Parking Garage.

Pima Community College just received a $65M revenue bond and Ward discussed the projects that the bond will finance.

One of the biggest projects that will come from the bond is the Center of Excellence of Applied Technology at the Downtown campus. The project valuation is estimated at $43.275M and the Pima County Community College District just awarded the architectural services contract to DLR Group on Wednesday.

The next Leading Market Series on April 4 will discuss Mixed-use Projects. To check out dates and topics or to register for the next event, visit:

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