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March 20, 2017

Witte Hall renovation inspired by CEE capstone students’ design

Written By: Lexy Brodt

The civil and environmental engineering (CEE) senior capstone course gives undergraduate students the opportunity to dip their toes into hands-on design projects much like they will encounter down the road in their careers.

Some of these senior-design projects have an impact that is much closer to home.

In fall 2012, a multidisciplinary team of CEE students Jimmy Schumacher, Tyler Hietpas, Kyle Busch and Yafei Zhang proposed a simple, yet viable, solution for renovating Witte Residence Hall, a two-tower student dorm on the southeast side of the UW-Madison campus. At more than 50 years old, the dorm needed a major update of its resident spaces, building systems and infrastructure.

The student team proposed that UW Housing connect Witte’s two towers. That link would create large common spaces for students and eliminate the need to shut down the entire dorm for the duration of construction. “We were thinking that connecting the two towers would make everyone feel more at home, or together,” says Schumacher, who graduated in 2013 and currently works for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in Milwaukee.

For Associate Director of University Housing Mike Kinderman, the proposal was an elegant solution. “When something like this pops up, you say, ‘Why couldn’t we think of something like that?’” Kinderman says. “It was the best design we looked at.”

UW Housing, which operates 19 residence halls on campus, had considered different options and ultimately determined the CEE team’s design was the most cost-effective and practical. In addition to the new common spaces on every floor—which will join the two towers, UW Housing also is adding an extra floor to compensate for any rooms displaced by the renovations. A number of additional updates will be made to the building, including new heating, ventilation and HVAC systems, temperature controls in rooms, electrical systems, security and the like. Construction will begin in March 2017 and continue through the summer of 2019.

At the core of these renovations is the hard work and ingenuity of CEE students. Schumacher, who lived in Witte Hall his freshman year at UW-Madison, is looking forward to seeing his team’s design become a reality.

“It’s nice that instead of knocking Witte Hall down, UW Housing is making it better than when I was there,” he says. “It’s neat that I was lucky enough to have this project, and five years later to see that they’re actually doing it, is rewarding. I can say that I had a little piece in it.”

The students (whose subdisciplines within civil and environmental engineering included structural, environmental, and geotechnical engineering) were guided through their project with the help of two mentors, an architect and a structural engineer. Mentorship is a key aspect of the CEE Capstone course that offers an invaluable “real-world” perspective as the students create their designs.

“The mentors we had really cared about helping, and giving back to the school,” says Schumacher. “They were always around to ask questions.”

The project allowed students to both improve the quality of campus life for future students, and to work on a relevant, collaborative project. According to Charles Quagliana, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering and an architect by training, the project exemplifies the experience CEE students receive in their capstone design course.

“Our class has a focus on project-based learning, and this was an excellent real-world and open-ended project for our students,” Quagliana says.

The final design of Witte includes key elements of the students’ design, and the collaboration with UW Housing has also yielded a design for the renovation of the Sellery Hall dormitory, which will take place between 2022 and 2024.