AUSTIN – DBR’s experience in higher education began in 1988 when the firm was tasked with the renovation design for University of Houston’s John M. O’Quinn Law Library and Moody Towers. After almost 30 years of successfully producing over 500 higher education projects within the Greater Houston and College Station area, DBR continues to expand and solidify its footprint in the thriving Texas Hill Country.

Last year the University of Texas System approved the construction of a new on-campus Graduate Student Housing Complex. The only housing currently offered to graduate students by the University was constructed over 30 years ago and is more than an hour walk and a 45-minute bus ride away from campus.

Courtesy of Kirksey Architecture

“There is a long wait list for the University Apartments and many graduate students are forced to rent expensive apartments near campus as the alternative,” said Melissa Coad, DBR’s Project Manager assigned to supervise the MEP design team.

To recruit and retain the best graduate students from around the world, the University saw the necessity to provide affordable housing that is close in proximity to the campus. DBR was selected to provide MEP engineering, low voltage technology, energy modeling, and LEED consulting services for the new 750-bed Graduate Housing Complex located on the East Campus adjacent to the Blacklands neighborhood.

“Because the Graduate Housing Complex will be located near a residential neighborhood, the existing utilities, such as water and sanitary sewer in the area, were installed many decades ago and are not sized to accommodate the large water and sewer needs of the project,” said Coad when asked about obstacles that have been presented during this project.

A large portion of the budget will be spent bringing the necessary power, water, sanitary, and fire lines to the site. To help offset the cost of utilities, the Department of Housing, who will operate and maintain the new Graduate Housing Complex, has allowed the design team to design and specify “developer level” standards in lieu of following the University of Texas Design and Construction Standards for institutional campus buildings.

“Developer level standards,” said Coad, “includes wood construction in lieu of steel, direct expansion air conditioning systems in lieu of chilled and hot water systems, and many other cost-saving designs.”

Due to its’ proximity to a residential neighborhood, this 350,000-square foot complex posed challenges beyond the coordination of building systems. To be mindful of the needs of the neighborhood residents, Kirksey Architecture, the design team lead, modeled their exterior building design to blend with the aesthetics of the existing homes in the community.

“The new buildings closest to the neighborhood will be two-story townhouses that won’t overwhelm or dwarf the one and two-story residences across the street,” Coad said. “In addition, the Graduate Housing Complex could include a neighborhood café, coffee shop, public green space, and pub that everyone in the area will be able to enjoy.”

Additionally, DBR has been working on the $40 million transformation of Texas State University’s Strahan Coliseum into the University Event Center. This project involves 81,000 square feet of additions and renovations to the facility that is home to the University’s athletic programs and commencement ceremonies.

The design team, led by Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects out of Denver and C.J. Lammers & Associates out of San Antonio, added modern locker rooms, workout facilities, and more than 1,000 seats in the arena to support events and commencement ceremonies with large attendance. Additional upgrades included meeting rooms, study spaces, new strength and conditioning spaces, a new lobby, and a new suite with a view that will put Bobcat athletes on full display.

“The expansion is going to significantly raise the stature of the school,” said Brian Uhlrich, DBR’s Partner overseeing the MEP design team. “For a lot of people, stepping into an arena for a game, concert, or commencement ceremony might be the first impression they have of the University, so this is going to dramatically improve the experience of the visitor.”

One of the challenges the MEP design team faced was the source of chilled water to the existing Strahan Coliseum and the adjacent Jowers Center which was obtained by a central plant located across the river, on Texas State’s main campus. The chilled water lines were part of the original campus construction and suspended under a bridge and were planned for decommissioning. As a result, the team was tasked with designing an entirely new chiller plant to provide cooling to the facility.

“We were able to work closely with the Construction Manager early in the project to keep the expansion on budget,” said Uhlrich.

While this project moves closer to completion, a separate project involving the construction of an overpass on Aquarena Springs will eventually give passersby’s a front-row view to the University Event Center.

“When the overpass is done, you’re going to drive up and be looking right over the building,” Uhlrich said. “The building is going to be on display for all people driving by. I’d say the timing for the expansion and face-lift was planned perfectly.”

At DBR, our mission is to continue to enhance the student and community experience through robust designs. As students, faculty, and staff prepare to head back to the Texas State University campus next fall, they’ll be greeted by a dramatically different building with the space needed to fully enjoy Texas State events and commencement ceremonies. In addition, the new Graduate Housing Complex will provide an affordable housing option for students returning in the Fall of 2018. Not only will this complex be closer to campus, it will be equipped with the latest in technology and comfort.

About DBR – DBR provides mechanical, electrical, and plumbing consulting services with a focus on energy-efficiency and building performance. Founded in 1972, DBR currently employs 120 people and is recognized as a forward-thinking firm by proactively identifying opportunities and investing in proper planning for the future.

For more information, contact DBR at (512) 637-4393 or visit our website at