Construction on the new ELB is nearing the finish line

September 30, 2020

Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, UM-Dearborn’s new Engineering Lab Building is set to be “substantially complete” by the end of October.

Construction crews working on the exterior of the Engineering Lab Building on a summer day.
Construction crews working on the exterior of the Engineering Lab Building on a summer day.
Crews put the finishing touches on the new Engineering Lab Building's exterior back in August.

Before you get too excited, when ELB project manager Emily Hamilton says the Engineering Lab Building will be “substantially complete” in about a month, that doesn’t mean it will be open. “Substantially complete is actually a construction term that basically means we can get building occupancy approval from state fire marshals so we’re allowed to start moving into the building,” Hamilton explains. 

Even so, it’s a huge accomplishment for the ELB team, which has faced numerous challenges due to the pandemic. In the spring, they had to completely halt construction, and when they were able to get back to work, new health and safety measures limited the number of people on the job site. Like the rest of us, they also had to contend with delays in getting critical supplies that were easy to get before the pandemic. 

Now, Hamilton says the team is focusing on installing the last phase of finishes, including ceiling tiles, flooring, door hardware, ceramic tile and bathroom fixtures. Once that’s complete, they’ll do a rough cleaning before moving faculty labs and furnishing the shared spaces with all new furniture and technology.

The pandemic has caused a few big changes to the move-in schedule. Back in January, the plan was to pack-up and move everyone into the new building over the summer. Now, with changes to the academic calendar and social distancing requirements in place, the move will be spread out over a longer period of time. Research labs will be the first to make the move, and some will be up and running by January. Instructional labs will get their turn next to support on-campus classes, which are scheduled to begin in March. Finally, advising staff and faculty will begin to move in February. Hamilton says the entire process should be completed by March 1. 

The pandemic has also caused the project team to rethink how they’ll initially deploy furniture in the building. Hamilton says the design strategy for furniture was all about flexibility: moveable tables, chairs and partitions that made classrooms easy to reconfigure for small group work. Ironically, that now gives them an advantage reconfiguring classrooms for social distancing. In addition, the team is deciding what to do with the  furniture in the 20 or so small-group collaboration spaces around the building. “I’m definitely not looking forward to putting ‘Do Not Sit Here’ signs on our brand new furniture,” Hamilton says. “But if we have to do that, we know it won’t be forever.”

These temporary complications aside, Hamilton says excitement is building for the ELB’s opening. She’s getting more requests for tours all the time, and she’s thankful that she “basically get[s] to say ‘no’” to these for now, given strict policies around letting people in the building before “substantial completion.” Right now, she needs every minute to focus on all the little things that still need to be done before the building’s official opening. “Although the building won’t have the ‘grand’ opening we had originally planned upon its completion, we are excited that by the spring, our campus community will be using the building, and we look forward to celebrating that in some fashion.”

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