On July 13, 2012, the Western Michigan University (WMU) embarked on a 345-day journey to transform an aging downtown building into a new and cutting-edge School of Medicine (SoM). In June 2014, that journey was realized with the completion of the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (W/Med), a state-of-the-art facility that now stands as a testament to project management excellence.

First conceived by University President Dr. John Dunn in 2007, the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine project launched in 2010 with a donation of a $100 million towards its development, and MPI Research’s contribution of a 40-year old, eight-storey Pfizer building in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. “To build this new school of medicine in a vacant research building in the center of the business district of Kalamazoo was a very critical strategic decision,” said Robert F. Pulito, President and Principal-in-Charge with The S/L/A/M Collaborative (SLAM), the project’s architects alongside Diekema Hamann. “Passing on the greenfield sites available on campus and selecting this site with an oversized 1980s former pharmaceutical facility required vision and the ability to accept and manage risk and this decision has had a profound impact on the economic vitality of the city.”


A team was then formed under construction manager Walbridge to convert the 330,000 sq. ft. facility into a modern SoM named after medical technology pioneer Dr. Homer Stryker.

“[W/Med] was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a new medical school and design a new facility to best meet the needs of the innovative, contemporary medical degree program curriculum,” said Hal B. Jenson, W/Med’s Founding Dean. “The resulting campus plan and facility supports the medical school’s current mission to educate and inspire lifelong learners to be exceptional clinicians, leaders, educators, and researchers of tomorrow; as well as the vision to be distinguished as a leader among medical schools through community collaboration in medical education, patient care, research, and service.”

Construction on the facility began in July 2012 under the direction of Owner Peter Strazdas, WMU’s Associate Vice President of the Facilities Management Department. It entailed demolishing 60 percent of the existing structure interior, including its lower, first, second, and third floors, which were renovated to incorporate more natural lighting, updated environments, and new common spaces.

“The new facility includes a regional simulation center that responds to curriculum and professional development needs and incorporates classrooms, lecture halls, and informal learning spaces with access to technology. Featuring a three- story atrium that connects the main building to a new three-story cone-shaped addition, a 22,000-square-foot medical simulation laboratory, and a grand seven- story stairway, the new SoM has become a standout facility in WMU’s portfolio.” Moreover, the success of the project has inspired new rounds of donor participation, allowing the new school to begin the fit-out of an additional 100,000 sq. ft. of shelled laboratory space several years ahead of schedule.

“This will allow the school to build their research program into an important component of all medical school programs,” explains Pulito.

Excellence by Design

awardpicconst2The design of W/Med was informed by three design principals: to be Learner-centered and patient- and family-oriented, discovery-driven, and globally-engaged. With this in mind, the team worked to not only meet that vision, but bring one of the region’s most modern medical education facilities online within a tight timeline and budget.
The team’s secondary goal, however, was to produce a functional Level 500 BIM model of the new facility for integration into the University’s TMA system, an advanced computerized maintenance management system. Produced under Strazdas’s direction, the BIM model introduced a powerful tool that aided the team during construction of the building’s addition and produced a resource that will assist the school in facilities management and possible expansions in years to come.

“Strazdas’s approach, along with WMU’s engagement, generated energy among all team members. His leadership allowed and encouraged everyone’s participation and enabled creative solutions that maintained design intent and economy while mitigating scheduling effects,” says Pulito, adding, “His decision to proceed with a design assist approach to the MEP [mechanical, electrical, and plumbing] systems enabled the design team to work collaboratively with MEP subcontractors to investigate the existing systems and determine the optimal integration of existing systems and equipment with new. This critical decision resulted in substantial savings on the MEP systems.”

SLAM was further empowered by Strazdas to discard any of the university’s previous facility design standards that did not add value to the current project, regardless of any bureaucracy issues that would arise. The team also benefitted from quarterly high- level executive meetings with the [Architect / Engineer] A/E and construction manager to go over design and construction progress, identify obstacles, and keep the team accountable to completion.

There were many critical milestone events the project had to meet. The most important was achieving Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accreditation, which allowed the school to interview and select new students and begin classes. Submitting and achieving LCME accreditation required careful coordination with the design and construction of the facility, making it imperative that the User Group make timely decisions in order to achieve a successful submission and project delivery.

awardpic-constTo that end, Strazdas facilitated a monthly meeting with his project manager, the design team, and the User Group’s key decision makers to make sure their progress on design decisions was being met and that the project schedule was in alignment with the critical requirements for LCME submission and accreditation process.
In addition to ensuring the required shutdowns occurred on-time and without any incidents for the building’s neighbors, every milestone date was met. This resulted in a successful accreditation process and project delivery, thereby inspiring confidence within the donor community and helping WMU exceed its funding goals.

Cost Management
A number of measures were taken to make the best use of the project’s $60 million budget. They included:

• Hiring the architect, engineer, and construction manager at the beginning of the project, allowing Walbridge to work with SLAM to provide all of the budgeting within a manner that was consistent with the construction schedule.

• Following a design-assist guaranteed- maximum-price project delivery method that Walbridge was able to use with mechanical and electrical subcontractors.

• Implementing shared-savings incentives for subcontractors, which resulted in a savings of $2.5 million that was returned to WMU’s project budget.

• Holding weekly meetings to assess site conditions, and providing rapid-responses and resolutions to unanticipated conditions as a result of working with the renovation of a complex research facility with little available documentation.

• Involving the A/E in the discussion, which meant issues were quickly resolved and incorporated into change orders on a monthly basis, thereby removing any uncertainty on what change items were to be implemented or not into the construction and keeping real time costs tracked against the budget.

Overall Success
awardwindowsThanks to these efforts and the team’s “design-assist” approach, the W/Med team succeeded in transforming the building and site into a new medical facility on time and 4 percent below budget.

“WMU’s conduct and constructive behavior created a productive and collaborative environment that facilitated the success of the project and helped to establish benchmarks of design and importance for the University. The building was delivered under budget and on schedule, has distinguished the new SoM, and helped WMU fulfill its obligation to revitalize the downtown business district and advance Kalamazoo’s medical community,” reports Pulito.

Matt Pulick, Senior Project Manager with Walbridge adds: “[Strazdas’s] enthusiasm to create a culture of partnership among SLAM, Walbridge, and his team at WMU were crucial in delivering an award-winning medical school to the university. The WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine is a landmark in downtown Kalamazoo, and I’m honored to have worked with WMU in making it possible.”

Project Complexity
Challenge: Design and construct a new ground-up medical school with limited and ever-evolving faculty in two years.
Solution: Establish a modified integrated design and delivery process (IPD) that accommodated change throughout the design and construction process while maintaining the budget and schedule.

Challenge: Deliver a state-of-the-art Medical School for under $275 sq. ft.
Solution: Allow the construction manager to establish a design-assist guaranteed-maximum-price project delivery method with mechanical and electrical subcontractors. Also, negotiate with neighbor facilities to share cooling, steam, and power utilities, eliminating the need for a central utility plant.

Challenge: Develop quality documentation minimizing field coordination issues and ensuring quality installation for an existing building with minimal documentation.
Solution: Document the facility in BIM, scan existing conditions, and input it into the model. Also, contract the design team to manage the model throughout construction and to develop the coordination drawings for the subcontractors, resulting in the virtual elimination of all coordination changes due to field coordination.

Challenge: Achieving the unique geometry for two multi-tiered, team-based learning halls in the built form was the most challenging aspect of the project. Virtually no straight walls we used. Instead, radial walls and curves were utilized through this addition.
Solution: Achieving proposed truncated cone and elliptical shaping with BIM, utilizing the model to generate the fabrication drawings and laser scanning the installation on a continuous basis to ensure the accuracy of the addition’s foundation and structure, which was critical to the proper installation of its skin and build out.

Challenge: Tying into the existing structural system for the new atrium on the north end of the building, constructed in a space between the new addition and existing building.
Solution: As issues arose, documentation was gathered in the form of photographs and measurements that were shared instantly with SLAM’s offices in Connecticut and Atlanta.

The decision to renovate a vacant facility demonstrated WMU’s commitment to sustainable development, minimizing their carbon footprint, and to supporting the local community. Sustainable highlights of W/Med include:

  • Utilizing the central plant utilities from the neighboring corporation, eliminating the need for building a new central plant eliminating additional emissions. The additional load on the existing central plant helps it run more efficiently because it was designed to support a greater load then its current condition.
  • Working with high-performance, energy-efficient glass that allows for high levels of visibility while reducing the potential for summer overheating and winter heat loss.
  • Recycling more than 75 percent of the construction waste.
  • Inviting Habitat for Humanity to collect reusable materials.
  • Building Reuse (maintaining 55 percent of existing walls, floors, and roof.
  • Using all new mechanical systems with the latest in digital controls, variable speed drives, and occupancy sensors for dynamic adjustment to the heating and cooling. This eliminates the need for a setback schedule for maximizing energy efficiency.
  • Marble and granite that were removed to make way for the addition were reincorporated back into the project.
  • Locating the project within close proximity to a large variety of shops, restaurants, financial and medical services.
  • The updated building allows more daylight inside than ever before, contributing toward a goal for the renovated portion of the building being designed and constructed to achieve LEED Silver Certification.

Quality Management

The vertical integration of a single BIM model from design to construction and facilities management played a significant role in improving quality. A third-party commissioning agent was hired by Strazdas at the building design development stage to provide a comprehensive review of the design, submittals, installation, and system start-up. He also advocated and had the user group hire their facility manager (FM) early in the design phase and be actively engaged in the design review meetings, and regularly attended the weekly construction progress meetings and walked the project during construction.

Towards the project’s end, Strazdas successfully advocated and got the Facility Manager to have a desk in the construction manager’s construction office and worked with them to become fully immersed in the system start-up and commissioning process.