The Art of Teamwork: Renovating the SMU Owens Art Center Using TEC® Products
It doesn’t get much more high-profile than this. Southern Methodist University (SMU) planned to renovate its Meadows School of the Arts—a sprawling connection of rooms and buildings, including a center for the visual arts with studios, classrooms, a performing arts center and an outdoor plaza and courtyard. The most dramatic addition was a remodel of the east entry into a stunning, modern multi-story atrium with a lighted ceiling, expansive windows and grand pillars.
In addition to The Meadows Foundation and numerous other donors, key supporters included Gene and Jerry Jones. Gene Jones is a civic and philanthropic leader and a tireless arts advocate for the Dallas area, including founding an art museum in the Cowboy’s AT&T Stadium and The Star, the Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters and practice facility. And Jerry Jones is, of course, the owner, president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. The new east entry was designed to greet students and guests, and provide a spectacular open venue for student performances and community gatherings, both inside and in the courtyard. Its first gathering? A gala to thank the supporters and show off the new space!
This 3-year project required the expertise, muscle power and brain power of an ace team of builders and tradesmen, tile and flooring experts, a general contractor, surface prep supplier, structural engineer, architect, and TEC sales and product experts, working closely with the SMU staff. The team met frequently throughout the renovation to keep the project on track and address any new challenges.
Creating a Welcoming New Space: The Gene and Jerry Jones Grand Atrium and Plaza
The dramatic entranceway was the final phase of the project—and the most difficult. It required renovating the entry, and extending the indoor space to incorporate some of the existing outdoor courtyard.
“In order to combine the old exterior and new interior, we needed to level out the transition in heights,” said Brian Green, field superintendent of Fabulous Floors. “The building had been added onto in five different construction projects,” said Zeferino (ZR) Saenz, project manager for CORE Construction, the general contractor for the project. Previous construction left the floor with varying inconsistencies.
Upon taking down walls and tearing up flooring, the team discovered a 40-50 year sand mix under the floor. To make matters more challenging, there was a basement underneath the floor as well. Standard leveling products were just too heavy for the historic structure. “You never know exactly what’s under current flooring until you perform the demo,” said Brian. “This was a historical building that was never meant to pump cement – or anything else to level it – to hold that weight.” The team needed to find a workable and cost-effective solution. So, a meeting was called. The structural engineer presented the challenge: What could they do to alleviate the weight issue, including the heavy 2 x 4’ 2cm porcelain floor tiles, and still provide the solid base and leveling they needed?
Kenny Hawkins, strategic account manager from TEC/HB Fuller, raised his hand. “We’ve got a product for you!” and he suggested using TEC® Level Set LW-60 Ultra-Lightweight Self-Leveling Underlayment. Kenny had several previous projects where weight was a concern. He was able to speak to how the product is used, how it works and how it flows. And the team agreed that it was a great choice.
“We had to be ready to go,” said Kenny. The TEC team had to know exactly when the walls, windows and ceiling would be done. Level Set LW-60 is a specialty product used on a limited basis, therefore, the TEC team needed to respond quickly to secure all 3,000 bags while staying on schedule and on budget. Yet, one more challenge remained. How to fill the deep angled drainage area that was part of the original outdoor courtyard, but now needed to become part of the indoor space?
Filling the “Chili Bowl”
The 100-foot by 100-foot drainage area was wide and deep, and sloped to pull water from the current courtyard. “Think of it like a big chili bowl with a drain in the bottom of it – like a sink. We needed to fill it to bring it up to the level of the rest of the project,” noted Brian. And Level Set LW-60 was the perfect product to get that done.
The 3,000-square-foot area required a variety of pours and depths. A plan emerged to allow proper drying time between the layers. The space was divided in sections depending on height, where each section had at least three pours. Portions from the exterior were five inches in depth and required five pours, while the interior sections required three – for a multitude of separate pours.
Coordinating in the hot summer sun of Dallas required additional planning. Pours were timed to avoid the extreme heat of the day. “We poured early in the morning and had to shut down in the heat because it was too hot,” said Mike Manderfeld, field sales rep for Surface Materials—the supplier of the TEC patching, underlayment, primer and mortar products. “There are ambient set temperatures we can’t go over.”
Supplies were brought in phases. They kept a flatbed loaded on one side, and when the team had to shut down pouring because of the heat, they would get other supplies from the warehouse to stage the next morning’s pour.
TEC Multipurpose Primer, an acrylic latex-based primer, was rolled on each dry section to help with adhesion of the self-leveling underlayments. Mike Manderfeld noted that the primer dried quickly, enabling almost immediate pouring of the next layer of the multi-purpose primer.
“The bag count grew as we demoed it,” said Kenny. Ultimately, the 3,000-square-foot area required 3,200 bags of TEC Lightweight Leveler. As for the chili bowl, Kenny commented, “It took a lot of bags to fill that belly. It was a doozy!”
The Amount of Flooring Prep Product Might Floor You!
To prepare for the new construction and flooring, the team used thousands of bags of product to fill holes, even out transitions between flooring surfaces and create smooth surfaces for all the tile, vinyl tile, carpet tile and walk-off mats needed. The final amount of flooring square feet? 34,000.
“TEC surface prep products were used throughout the 34,000 square feet of flooring on the project,” said Amber Dunlap, the project manager from Fabulous Floors. “We’ve used TEC products on quite a few other projects,” said Brian,“and we get great feedback from installers when using it.” Some of the flooring spaces included: corridors/hallways, classrooms, a theater, meeting areas, offices, IT facilities and atrium areas.
TEC Fast-Set Deep Patch was used to alleviate a height difference between a vinyl floor that met up to a tile floor. “It’s used to create a kind of ramp under the floor to level different kinds of flooring to another kind of flooring,” said Kenny. The product proved especially useful when the team had to patch a corridor with a steep incline. “They could match it up to such a deep consistency that it didn’t run, making it easier for them to patch.”
According to ZR, TEC was utilized in corridors throughout the building where the existing terrazzo sand bed had an insufficient substrate to install the tile flooring upon. The team also used TEC Floor Patch Pro in classrooms to fill deep holes, and to prep the rest of the flooring surfaces. “When you go to the high end of the water, it gets real smooth,” said Kenny. “It saves prep time because it spreads easily to get the job done fast.”
Additional TEC products included Level Set 200 Self-Leveling Underlayment, which was used where weight was not an issue. And TEC Floor Mud, a Portland cement-based mortar.
The Team Met Other Challenges
In order to get the job done, the team worked throughout the year. “Summers picked up because fewer students were attending classes , but we still had to work around school times. For example, when we did a hallway, we could only do half at a time because half needed to be open as a fire escape,” said Brian. Classes were sometimes moved to alternate sites to allow construction to continue.
An additional challenge: working through the COVID pandemic. “Supply chains have been difficult since the beginning of 2020,” said Mike Trent, senior sales associate for Fabulous Floors. “The pandemic impacted product availability, trucking, shipping and fuel costs. Many of the floor tiles came from overseas, and it also created delays or product substitutions on anything from door frames, steel, concrete and paint. Near the end of the project, the war in Ukraine further weakened an already weakened supply chain.”
“This was one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever been on,” said Greg Bostick, superintendent for CORE. “But we had the best group of guys and gals we could have asked for. It turned out great. Just glad to be a part of it.”
Yet, the team found ways to work around the difficulties. After all, they had a deadline to adhere to: The Opening Night Gala, attended by the Jones’ themselves.
A Successful Project of Friends
One thing all the team members could agree on was the quality and dedication of all of the people who worked on the project. Although not without challenges, everyone pulled together to create a spectacular result.
Mike Manderfeld described it as a big group of friends working together. “There’s always a way to solve a problem if everyone’s willing to help solve it,” he said. “It’s the whole network of people involved,” said Brian. “We’re not anything without all those other people.” Kenny agreed. Mike Trent reflected on the involvement of himself, Amber and Brian throughout the entirety of the project. “It’s rather heartwarming when you walk through or see photos of something you helped create that’s going to be around for a long time. It’s something you can take pride in. It makes us want to do it again.”
Southern Methodist University was also pleased with the stunning new addition to their campus. “This project was not only a labor of love, but also a commitment to excellence and to our students,” said Samuel S. Holland, Algur H. Meadows Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts. “Our expanded and improved facilities will enable new creative breakthroughs, inspire groundbreaking artistic innovations and promote artistic collaboration across our programs.”