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Western Michigan University Expands Aviation Center

by: Debra Wood
The new structure allows views of the runway. (Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University)
The new structure allows views of the runway. (Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University)
The College of Aviation’s project will enhance learning experiences. (Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University)
The College of Aviation’s project will enhance learning experiences. (Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University)
The Western Michigan University College of Aviation project will enhance learning experiences. (Photo courtesy of Beckering Construction)
The Western Michigan University College of Aviation project will enhance learning experiences. (Photo courtesy of Beckering Construction)
A bridge connects the prior and new buildings. (Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University)
A bridge connects the prior and new buildings. (Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University)
With the need for pilots growing, Western Michigan University’s (WMU) aviation program has experienced growth, but the existing facilities needed updating. Therefore, the College of Aviation has embarked on a $20 million renovation and addition.

“The primary purpose of the project is to generate additional space at the WMU College of Aviation, which will address growing enrollment patterns due to predicted job demand in key aviation field,” says Captain Dave Powell, Dean of the college and a former United Airlines executive. “The newly renovated and expanded facility will greatly improve the quality of instruction and research facilities, be fully accessible and have the technologies expected in this area of study.”

The College of Aviation is one of the country’s longest-running, comprehensive collegiate aviation programs. It started in 1939 and relocated to the Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field, in 1997. It is about 22 miles from the university’s Kalamazoo base.

“The College of Aviation is one of the top aviation schools in the country and has no peers in Michigan,” says Chris Pyzik, Manager of Architectural Projects at the university.

Back in 2008, master plan studies indicated a need to expand the College of Aviation and add more technology to the building. The college offers Aviation Flight Sciences, Aviation Science and Administration and Aviation Technical Operations. It is the only collegiate aviation program in the state. The college participates in the Delta Air Lines Propel and United Airlines Aviate pilot-hiring programs, as well as the AAR Corporation hiring program for technical operations students.

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The Federal Aviation Authority estimates that the country will need more than a million skilled aviation professionals by 2034. In Michigan, aviation jobs are some of the highest paying positions.

Since 2010, the College’s growth has increased by 80 percent to more than 1,200 students.

“It is one of the largest aviation programs in the nation,” Powell says. “Backed by more than 80 years of aviation experience and our excellent industry reputation, the college is a powerful force in the future of aviation training.”

The current project includes adding classrooms, a six-simulator lab, paint lab upgrades, a research center, flight briefing rooms, faculty office space, a cafeì, and other amenities. The simulation is important, Powell says, because it saves students a great deal of money in flight fees by conducting certain training events in simulators rather than aircraft.

“The renovation and expansion of the Aviation Education Center will provide needed space for the flexible reconfiguration and functional designs that will allow for continued and increased student learning opportunities,” Powell explains. Without this renovation, the college’s current building “does not have the design and capacity to fulfill these future capacity and research needs. The project’s intent is to provide a facility that fully accommodates modern technology, practices, and methodology for faculty and students.”

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The State of Michigan provided $15 million toward the 68,000-square-foot project, with the university and private donors contributing the balance.

Joe Sobieralski, President and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, the community’s economic development organization, said in a statement that the upgraded facility is “not only great for Western Michigan University, but it is also great for Battle Creek. It doubles-down on one of Battle Creek’s most strategic assets on the economic development front.”

“The college's vision is to establish and maintain the most advanced training fleet and equipment available in collegiate aviation, complementing a world-class professional aviation program consistently viewed as one of the best in the world,” Powell adds. “The college continuously examines its pedagogy, pioneering revolutionary new methods of instruction designed to improve communication skills necessary in all fields of aviation: management, maintenance, and flight. The college produces graduates who think critically, communicate effectively, and participate meaningfully and ethically in the dynamic field of aviation.”

This aviation building was designed and constructed using BIM 3-D modeling software. Integrated Architecture of Grand Rapids, Michigan, designed the building and landscaping. Peter Basso Associates of Troy, Michigan, provided mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design engineering services. JDH of Grandville, Michigan, was the structural engineer. Nederveld of Grand Rapids served as the civil engineer.

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Beckering Construction of Grand Rapids, Michigan, received the construction contract in 2019 for the aviation center. The company was founded in 1933, and three generations later, the family continues to lead the company.

Before work began, Beckering Construction provided value engineering to bring the cost down. Recommendations included selecting a different material for the metal panels and redesigning the parking lot.

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Crews started on the two-story, steel-frame building in fall 2019. The pandemic delayed the project for three months. Throughout construction, the company incorporated many revisions to the features, says DJ Beckering, Project Manager for the construction firm and a Western Michigan University alumnus. “Being a graduate and coming back to work with the university is cool,” Beckering says.

Beckering Construction and the university worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the airport authority to obtain needed approvals for construction of the new structure.

“Construction of a major addition and renovation near an active airport runway required FAA approval for our building plan, including perimeter fencing and barriers and a specific layout plan for the placement of cranes,” Beckering says. “We worked hard to maintain a clean job site, with zero tolerance for debris on the runway.”

Through all of these challenges, Beckering Construction was able to maintain timely completion of the project for owner occupancy prior to the fall 2021 semester. The company also stayed within the overall budget.

“That is very satisfying,” Beckering adds. “I’m proud of this project.”

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The building features polished concrete floors, a fire pit area in front of the building, and a lobby bridge that overlooks the commons. Additionally, a paint hanger will allow students and the college to work on planes. The dean’s office overlooks the runway.

“The entry canopy is built in the shape of a wing with a strobe light installed at the tip to mimic an airplane wing,” Beckering says.

The exterior is clad in metal panels and curtain wall, with an ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM) roof, a synthetic rubber roofing membrane. Together they form an energy-efficient exterior envelope.

Energy Efficiency
The project is seeking a LEED Gold designation. LEED Silver is the campus standard and a minimum requirement.

Among the features is a closed-loop heat pump system, with an enthalpy wheel energy recovery ventilator, estimated to save the school 57 percent as compared to a traditional system.

Electrical features include a new single-ended unit substation and secondary distribution to provide power for the renovation and addition; sophisticated lighting controls, with daylight and occupancy sensors; interior and exterior LED lighting; an uninterruptible power supply system; and an emergency generator. A small photovoltaic array was installed on the roof.

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The aviation center has used materials with recycled content and with low volatile organic compounds for improved indoor air quality. During construction, 97 percent of the construction wastes have been recycled and the contractor has followed a construction air quality management plan.

The project was designed and built with infrastructure in place for future expansion. Western Michigan University is participating in the Consumers Energy Zero Net Energy Pilot Program, which helps a building produce as much energy as it consumes.

Crews worked through the winter. The aviation center is scheduled for completion in April 2021.

Once finished, Pyzik concludes, “The college will have a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility to enhance the quality of the programs for students and faculty.”

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SITECH
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SITECH Michigan
SITECH
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SITECH Michigan