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Campus Construction Provides Learning Lab for Students

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Lorne Fultonberg

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Lorne Fultonberg
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Burwell Center Tour

Things have changed for students in the Constructions Building Systems class these days.

A supply list that once contained little more than a textbook is now more rugged: hard hat, sturdy shoes, fluorescent vest, safety goggles. And field trips to see the latest, greatest feats in construction aren’t exactly field trips.

Because just across the street from the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management lies a better live laboratory than any professor Eric Holt could have designed.

“That’s cutting-edge technology right there,” Holt says of the University of Denver’s forthcoming Burwell Center for Career Achievement, rising on the north side of campus as part of the Denver Advantage initiative. “And the students get to experience that right here. Having this instructional campus is just a godsend for the Burns School.”

Burwell Center
Photo: Lorne Fultonberg

Slated to open in July 2020, the Burwell Center represents 21,000 square feet of development and outreach. Inside its doors, the University’s more than 12,000 students and 140,000 alumni can connect with employers and one another as they grow themselves professionally.

Already the Burwell Center is developing the skill sets of Holt’s students. On an October morning, they gathered outside the chain-link fences that mark the construction entrance and prepared for a tour with engineers from PCL Construction.

It’s the first time these students, most of whom are studying in the Real Estate and the Built Environment (REBE) program, are seeing cross-laminated timber (CLT) up close. The Canadian wood is regarded as the gold standard in sustainability. It takes far less energy to produce than concrete or steel and is harvested with environmental preservation in mind.

“We just went over CLT about a month ago [in class],” says Jonah Comeaux, a REBE grad student, “and now … instead of on slides, it’s right there. It’s cool to see it and appreciate what we’ve been talking about.”

Burwell Center rendering

Aesthetically, the wood contributes to the Burwell Center’s clean look. Much of the wood will be exposed inside the building, which also features large windows for natural light. As Heidi Perman, assistant vice chancellor of career and professional development, notes, many of the features are the result of student feedback during the design process.

“They care about sustainability and they wanted to see the sustainability,” Perman says. “We want this to be a learning lab” where DU can show the building’s green features. The Burwell Center is aspiring to LEED Platinum status, which means it will use 50% less energy than its peers. REBE student David Winsor says the environmental priorities haven’t gone unnoticed in his program.

“[Seeing] that sustainability,” Winsor says, “essentially sets the foundation [for us] in college. “And then subconsciously we are just driving that after college in any career we end up following.”

Burwell Center
The second floor of the Burwell Center features cross-laminate timber and large windows. (Photo: Lorne Fultonberg)

In addition to materials, Holt says, these class excursions give students an idea of what to expect on a real job site. On tours, they witness interactions between employees and subcontractors. They watch construction in real time. And afterwards, in many cases, there are opportunities for networking. After leading the Burwell Center tour, PCL employees hosted the students for lunch. Over pizza, they talked shop and discussed internships and jobs. Several DU students are already interning on other campus construction projects, including the Dimond Family Residential Village and the Community Commons.

“I’m thinking about the long-term aspects of when I’ll be, not only a current student learning from [the Burwell Center], but later as an alumna using it,” says Nhu Lan, a grad student. “That’s where I see the value added.”

And, Holt says, with plans through the Denver Advantage to rebuild and expand campus even further, students will be getting a great, experiential education for years to come.

“We’re preaching here at Burns that we give students the most advanced construction management education out there,” he says. “We’re not just teaching it out of a book. We are getting them out weekly onto real-world construction sites. It’s a better learning experience.”

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