Building for Success
GHEMM Company is at work on UAF Student Success Center and other vital campus projects
By Vanessa Orr

hile you would expect a university dorm to be pretty quiet after students move out, there’s actually a lot of activity happening on the University of Alaska Fairbanks, or UAF, Troth Yeddha’ campus as GHEMM Company, LLC, works to complete two large construction projects designed to enhance the student experience.

GHEMM completed the student housing and dining addition in August 2014.
outside view of completed student housing and dining addition
Major upgrades are taking place at Moore and Bartlett Halls, two dormitories on the upper campus, and GHEMM is also transforming the sixth floor of the Rasmuson Library into a new UAF Student Success Center.
The UAF Student Success Center
In 2019, a UAF steering committee was formed to study how academic libraries are changing to meet student needs. The UAF Student Success Center, or SSC, on the sixth floor of the Rasmuson Library is the result of that study. The SSC will include space for academic tutoring from multiple disciplines, academic success coaching, first year academic advising, career advising, testing services, a speaking center, writing center and math lab, and private and group study rooms. The center will also contain a smart classroom for general use, several Zoom rooms, and a recording studio. Virtual access will allow all students to access the SSC’s services, including online and distance students.
UAF Student Success Center construction site
Work is expected to be finished on the $9 million UAF Student Success Center on the sixth floor of the Rasmuson Library in August.

Photo provided by UAF

“The university looked into the student success model and what it means. Across the nation, a lot of student success centers are being integrated into library functions as libraries change their delivery methods and models. They’re no longer just stacks of books,” explains UAF Director of Design and Construction Cameron Wohlford of the $9 million project. “Many universities are planting their student success centers around library media services, and that seemed like a good fit for us.”

In 2021, Bettisworth North Architects and Planners, Inc. worked in collaboration with the UAF User Design Committee to envision the space. GHEMM Company, LLC, won the bid through a low lump sum bid contracting method and began construction in June of 2023.

outside view of the completed UAF Research Greenhouse
GHEMM completed the UAF Research Greenhouse in December 2011.

Photo provided by Ken Graham

“After the university emptied the sixth floor of the library, we started demoing the existing walls to construct the new layout,” says GHEMM Company President Meg Nordale. “This spring, we’re going to shift to outside work, including cutting out the existing concrete panels on the south side of the building that faces the quad and replacing them with windows. Windows will also be installed on the west side of the building.”

Work is expected to be completed in early August, with close-outs and cleaning to follow.

The Moore and Bartlett Complex
Right after students moved off campus in May 2023, GHEMM began demo work on the Moore and Bartlett complex with the goal of finishing work before July 1, 2024, when students move back in.

Wohlford says the $32.5 million project has been on the books for ten years and includes removing and replacing the plumbing infrastructure, redoing the restrooms, and relocating laundry rooms. GHEMM will also do a finish facelift inside each dorm room that includes painting and new floors, as well as new flooring in the corridors.

inside view of Moore-Bartlett project construction site near completion
In May 2023, GHEMM began working on the $32.5 million Moore-Bartlett project, which includes renovating the restrooms in both dorms.
GHEMM was awarded the job in November 2022 through a Construction Manager at Risk, or CMAR, contract method that included preconstruction services, cost estimating services, schedule development, and constructability reviews as the design was being developed. The company subsequently negotiated the construction phase of the project.

“As soon as the students moved out, we moved in,” says Nordale. “It’s a tight timeline. Each building is eight floors for a total of sixteen floors, and we’re touching every floor.”

Not surprisingly, there were a number of code upgrades that were not anticipated in the work on the 60-year-old buildings, increasing the cost of the job.

“Unfortunately, the timeline hasn’t changed—we still have to be done when school starts in fall 2024,” says Nordale. “For us, that’s the biggest challenge.”

The GHEMM crew are systematically working their way from the top to the bottom of each building, with builders framing walls on one floor while electricians and plumbers work on another. Sheetrock, ceramic tile, and painting work follow behind.

“It’s like a train moving through each building, and when we come across unexpected conditions we have to fix, it causes hiccups,” says Nordale. “But, at the end of the day, we have to be done because every single dorm room on the campus is full. In fact, UAF brought old dorms back online to accommodate the fact that these two are offline.”

These projects are not the first that GHEMM has completed for UAF. The company worked on the original on-site power plant, built the virology lab on the west ridge of the campus, and built an addition onto the Wood Center. It also renovated the Fine Arts Complex lobby, replaced windows in the library, and built greenhouses and a lab at the Arctic Health Center.

“It’s a tight timeline. Each building is eight floors for a total of sixteen floors, and we’re touching every floor.”
– Meg Nordale,
President, GHEMM Company
inside staircase of completed Wood Center at UAF
GHEMM built the Wood Center at UAF in 2014.
“We pride ourselves on delivering high-quality work at the price we quoted; we live by our word and live by our work,” says Nordale. “We like to make the construction effort and the time it’s going on as easy as possible. That’s why people hire us. If we weren’t successful at that, they wouldn’t hire us back.”
Additional Projects at UAF
Wohlford says UAF is currently in the process of finishing up one major project and awarding two more. In February 2024, Red Point Construction of Wasilla finished a $3.3 million hangar at the Nenana Airport that will house the university’s unmanned aerial vehicles.
Subcontractors working on the UAF construction projects with GHEMM Company, LLC include the following Associated General Contractors, or AGC, of Alaska member companies:

UAF Student Success Center:

  • A&A Roofing Company, Inc.
  • Commercial Contractors, Inc.
  • Star Electric, Inc.

Moore and Bartlett complex:

  • West Coast Concrete Restoration
  • A&A Roofing Company, Inc.
  • Commercial Contractors, Inc.
  • Gundersen Painting, Inc.
  • Patrick Mechanical, LLC
  • Fullford Electric, Inc.
UAF also awarded a $2.2 million project to repurpose a building in Bethel to become a hands-on lab for the nursing and teaching program at UAF’s Kuskokwim campus, and this summer will break ground on a planetarium next to the museum. The $8.3 million project is the result of a philanthropic gift and is expected to be completed in May 2025. At the time this article was written, these two contracts had not yet been awarded.
Vanessa Orr is a freelance writer formerly based out of Juneau, where she was editor of the Capital City Weekly and Boat Broker Outdoor Recreation magazine. Photos provided by GHEMM Company unless otherwise noted.