Navigation Content
University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
You are here:
  1. Home > 
  2. News > 
  3. News archive > 
  4. 2014 > 
  5. CEE grads lead Cullen into 'Deep Space'

CEE grads lead Cullen into 'Deep Space'

Deep Space in an early phase of construction.

Deep Space, a five-story, partially underground building on the Epic Systems campus in Verona, Wisconsin, resembles a cave—from its exposed west façade covered in artificial rock to an indoor mural of an ice cave (complete with menacing yeti).  

Its centerpiece, an auditorium for conferences, staff meetings, and training, must accommodate 11,400 audience members and provide them all an intimate face-to-face connection with speakers onstage. It's a design that means no balconies, no pesky columns, and a shallow seating bowl. Leading up to its opening in late 2013, the building had to meet a rapid construction schedule to accommodate the demand for space needs.

It’s hardly the first Epic building with an eccentric twist—one company meeting space evokes a ski lodge while another resembles a treehouse. Then there's a hallway inspired by Raiders Of The Lost Ark ... and the list goes on.

For contractor J.P. Cullen and Sons, building Deep Space embodied a host of novel and formidable engineering challenges. Many of those challenges fell to 14 CEE graduates on Cullen’s Deep Space team, and whose training played an integral role in keeping the massive project on schedule. 

Pete Scharenbroch (BSCEE ’07) began interning at Cullen while earning his bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering at UW-Madison. He began working for Cullen full-time before his graduation in 2007 and is now the company’s building information modeling, or BIM, manager. He began learning how to use computer models of buildings in one of his civil engineering courses.

“That was the most beneficial thing I learned, at least that is directly related to what I’m doing now,” he says. “It’s a great visual tool for the people who are not actually building a structure—and even the ones that are.”

BIM played an especially vital role as workers from Cullen and subcontractor ALE lifted Deep Space’s roof into position in October 2012, using a process known as strand jacking.

After the roof was built on the ground, ALE located and Cullen placed a series of huge hydraulic jacks along the roof’s perimeter to gradually lift it to its final height.  All in all, the roof was lifted 68 feet in six hours.

“Everyone was hesitant and cautious at first,” Scharenbroch says. “You’ve got a 9-million-pound roof and massive amounts of steel in the air.”

Engineers surveyed the roof three times during its incremental ascent, using computer models to determine the placement of 223 different survey points within the roof structure. They had to monitor the behavior of not only the roof itself—supported by a series of trusses, and ultimately resting on two massive steel columns—but also account for the catwalks, speakers, ductwork, and other fixtures that now hang from the roof structure.

“Everything you see was modeled, because we had to make sure we knew where all these things were,” Scharenbroch says. “It was a huge coordination effort.”

When Cullen faced scheduling challenges in January, the company called in Dick Pelton (BSCEE ’58), who worked for the company from 1971 to 1995 and still frequently works with Cullen as an outside consultant. The company ended up having to raise the roof later than expected, but without pushing back the overall project deadline. Pelton’s specialty is scheduling, and he specifically coordinated with Cullen workers and subcontractors on Deep Space’s “back-of-house” rooms, those outside of the auditorium.

“They had a CPM (critical path method) schedule, but my thing is going through and making micro-schedules,” Pelton says. To make sure the project moved along on schedule, Pelton delved into minute details of sequencing different parts of the work—deciding whether crews should finish construction in a certain area before a piece of equipment was placed in that area.  Coordinating the many components of the building’s electrical and data systems was significant in preparation for the installation of the audio-visual system and screens, 

“It was a job of trying to get the sequencing right so that each unit could be put in as quickly as possible,” Pelton says. “It’s because of my engineering education that I’ve been able to think through the problems and figure out a way to get them done on time.”

That huge, interlocking to-do list also made Deep Space challenging from a coordination and BIM perspective as well.

Nick Herr (BSCEE ‘08), a former classmate of Scharenbroch’s and a BIM coordinator on the project, says that modeling software is usually set up to model a static, finished building. But for Deep Space, Herr had to make the software keep up with the structural and architectural changes that took place in the building during the roof lift and the fast-track design. The building was designed in three independent parts (back of house, auditorium bowl, and prefunction) and then assembled. The BIM coordination was critical to this design approach. 

“In the auditorium bowl, we had ductwork, catwalks, the speaker support structure,” Herr says. “We had to model it with adjustments, so that when we actually strand-jacked it and the structure deflected as it was intended to deflect, everything would still be OK.”

The team had to account for the cambered and uncambered positions of the roof, which was a 10-inch difference at the midspan of the clearspan truss.

Herr’s UW-Madison training in BIM and AutoCAD software helped him keep the project on its tight schedule while conceptualizing Deep Space’s elaborate mechanical elements, including its geothermal-powered HVAC system. And because his engineering courses also helped him understand the structural engineering side of building, he was able to work efficiently with the structural engineers for the project.

As area project manager, Tom Pertzborn (BSCEE '96) says his Construction Engineering and Management education enabled him to keep Deep Space on schedule and understand the full, highly demanding scope of the project.

“The courses that applied real-world construction techniques as well as a focus on mechanical and electrical systems provided an introduction to the complex building systems of the project,” Pertzborn says.

The mark of Badger engineers on Deep Space extends even to the concrete shear wall that lies directly behind the building’s fanciful rock façade. Site engineer Ryan Huenink (BSCEE '12) points out that the wall’s reinforced concrete provides support for the building’s massive steel structure. Huenink went into the project armed with more than just engineering fundamentals.

“Very often there is more than one right answer to the problems that arise on Deep Space,” he says. “Being able to communicate and work together with several disciplines in engineering has made me more proficient in troubleshooting with structural engineers and architects, saving the project time and money.”

Scott Gordon