Building Utah: Major construction projects are turning the entire state into a hard hat zone

If it seems like major construction projects across the Beehive State are never in short supply, that’s because they aren’t. From Logan to St. George, a myriad of new developments are underway. Some of these projects have been under construction for a couple of years, while others are just breaking ground. Regardless, Utah’s construction industry continues to bulldoze forward in all areas, but particularly when it comes to higher education buildings and healthcare campuses.

USU Clinical ServicesHigher education

Utah State University is getting a facelift with a couple of new projects. One is the USU Clinical Services Building, a 105,000-square-foot, $28 million project that will allow several of the university’s departments to merge into one building. The project’s general contractor is R&O Construction and its architect is Jacoby Architects.

The other project, also headed up by R&O, is the USU Space Dynamics Laboratory, a 73,528-square-foot, $20 million building designed by CRSA. “That’s been an interesting project,” says Slade Opheikens, CEO of R&O Construction. “The build out of the interior is very high-level security with mesh walls to protect against intrusion and film in the walls to prevent radio frequencies from being transferred in and out of the building.”

Crocker Science Center Exterior renderingAt the University of Utah, Okland Construction is working on the Crocker Science Center, which is converting the George Thomas Building into a state-of-the art-teaching and research center. The original U-shaped portion of the building consisting of approximately 71,000 square feet will receive a seismic upgrade and reconfiguration of spaces, which will provide flexible teaching labs and a tutoring center for all science disciplines. A 52,500-square-foot addition will also be built to house cell and genome research center labs.

Another project at the U is the Orson Spencer Hall replacement, which will serve as the main classroom building on campus. The facility, now named the Carolyn and Kem Gardner Building, is being constructed by Okland, Cache Valley Electric, MHTN Architects and others. It’s a $53 million, five-story, 209,000-square-foot hub for students that will include a welcome center, office for global engagement and collaborative research spaces. Anticipated completion of the building is mid-2018.

Dixie ATCIn St. George, another educational campus is under construction in the form of the Dixie Applied Technology Campus, a 150,000-square-foot, $30-plus million project projected to be completed in October. At Southern Utah University in Cedar City, a groundbreaking was held in April for a new business building, which will be constructed by Layton Construction and designed by MHTN Architects.

At Weber State University in Ogden, Big-D and GSBS Architecture are working on the renovations to Lindquist Hall, where social science courses are held, and at Brigham Young University, FFKR Architects is designing a co-generation facility, which is essentially a rebuild of the campus’ power and steam systems within its central plant.


Intermountain Healthcare has made some significant investments in its medical centers recently, with new builds and remodels at several of its healthcare campuses across the state.

Utah Valley HospitalUtah Valley Hospital in Provo is undergoing a hospital replacement project that is slated to be complete in 2019. The project, headed up by Jacobsen Construction, SME Steel and Reaveley Engineers, is a 600,000-square-foot, 12-story patient tower that will house a number of hospital services. The project will also revitalize the look of the campus and will allow for improvements in technology, the progression of patient treatment from one care area to another and increased patient room sizes, according to Intermountain Healthcare.

In Layton, Intermountain Healthcare is constructing a new hospital expected to open in mid-2018. The project is being built by SME Steel, Jacobsen Construction, D&D Welding and others, and will also include an adjacent medical office building. The 300,000-square-foot hospital will have 43 beds and four operating rooms.

Intermountain is also working on its St. George hospital, Dixie Regional Medical Center, in conjunction with Okland Construction, Sunroc, SME Steel, Cache Valley Electric and others. The project is considered to be one of the largest construction projects to ever take place in Washington County and will add over 300,000 square feet of new construction, as well as two five-story patient towers to the existing campus.

In Bountiful, Big-D Construction is working on a remodel and expansion of the Intermountain Health Care Bountiful Clinic, which should be complete in April 2018.

Alta View Hospital, another Intermountain facility, is also undergoing a renovation. In conjunction with Okland, Cache Valley Electric and others, the project, expected to wrap up in 2019, will update several existing buildings while also adding two four-story towers that will be the future home of most hospital services as well as several medical practices. Other major components of the project include a 340-stall parking structure and a 10,000-square-foot central utility plant.

“A big focus in construction right now is healthcare,” says Jeremy Blanck, project executive at Okland Construction. “Healthcare continues to be a dominant force in our market with Intermountain doing several projects. The University of Utah is also replacing its medical school, and Okland was awarded that project.” FFKR is also working on the University of Utah’s Medical Education & Discovery/Rehabilitation Hospital project.

Other major projects

While education and healthcare projects are dominating Utah’s construction scene, there are many other notable projects occurring across the state as well.

The Vivint Smart Home Arena renovation project, expected to be finished in late 2017, is a complete interior renovation of the more than 270,000-square-foot facility that will include several additions and re-seating of the entire bowl. The $125 million investment will include locker rooms, lounges, luxury suites, club spaces, press rooms and other spaces that will be completely overhauled.

RSL Training FacilityThe Real Salt Lake training facility in Herriman, a $50 million project, is also underway, with contractors such as Hunt Electric and Wasatch Regional Builders behind the scenes. “It’s an exciting project for our community and for our state in general for the soccer fans,” says Ibi Guevara, vice president of business development and marketing at Hunt Electric, of the 208,000-square-foot structure that will house eight soccer fields and serve as the training facility for both RSL and the Real Monarchs. The complex will also house the charter school for the Real Salt Lake Academy, and is slated to be finished in fall 2017.

Another chief project, the new Utah State Correctional Facility, is a major undertaking between project managers and technical consultants Big-D and Arizona-based Kitchell, as well as joint-venture team Layton and Okland. The approximately $550 million project, located west of the Salt Lake City International Airport, is still in the preliminary phases of pre-construction and site development, but is expected to be completed by the fall of 2020.

Salt Lake AirportThe Salt Lake City International Airport is also receiving a major facelift, with several different contractors working on various phases of its renovation. The project began in 2014 and is expected to be completed in phases, with the complete overhaul to be done by 2024. Okland has been awarded the LEED Gold North Concourse Program as part of the overall project, which will add 30 gates in two phases, as well as new aircraft taxi lanes, new passenger loading bridges and flexibility to accommodate multiple types of aircraft. Additionally, the project will include the construction of a passenger tunnel to connect the North Concourse and South Concourse Terminal. Amenities will include operations space, concessions, restrooms and other public spaces. This work is being done alongside Texas-based Austin Commercial and will begin in late 2017.

Big-D is also working on a private hangar for Atlantic Aviation as well as the Salt Lake City Airport Operations Facility, which should both be completed by end of 2017.

UPS RenderingThe UPS Distribution Facility, located on 5600 West near Interstate 80, is a $275 million UPS operations hub. The 865,000-square-foot building will employ 1,500 workers and is expected to be completed in January 2018 by Layton Construction and Hunt Electric, among other subcontractors.

The Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy is expected to finish in late fall of this year. Alan Rindlisbacher, director of corporate communications for Layton, says: “It’s a tremendous facility that’s been in the making for a number of years as Hale has outgrown their space in West Valley. No one with their eyes open can miss that big construction site, and once it’s completed it’ll be an awesome venue. It has the big theater in the round, as well as another secondary theater.”

Big-D is also working on several warehouse distribution centers at Business Depot Ogden, says Forrest McNabb, president at Big-D. “One of the jobs is for a tenant called Readerlink. Its 500,000 square feet. We are also doing 263,000 square feet there for Home Depot. The owner of these projects is Boyer.” At the Freeport West Distribution Center, Big-D is also working on a 900,000-square-foot facility for Post Cereal that is expected to wrap up fourth quarter of 2017.

CenterCal’s Canyon Corner Retail and residential project in Park City is also under construction. Layton is working on a Whole Foods grocery store, which should be completed by August, as well as apartments that should be available in early summer. Another CenterCal project by Layton also broke ground in Riverton and will boast an 85-acre retail, restaurant, office and hotel center called Mountain View Village. Harmon’s Grocery will be an anchor tenant, with the first phase of that project expected to open in summer 2018.

Okland is also working on the new Mountain America Credit Union office building, Sandy Tower, which will be Utah’s tallest suburban office building at 11-stories and 327,600 square feet. The tower will be the centerpiece of Sandy City’s new development area adjacent to Interstate 15, across from the new Hale Centre Theatre. Amenities will include a fitness center, an outdoor employee pavilion, basketball courts, an amphitheater and city plaza.

Utah’s construction outlook

Although construction seems to be booming in nearly every region of the state, caution is still a factor for many contractors. “Things are busy across the board, and we feel good about it for another year, but then we don’t know where things will go,” says Opheikens. “We all got hurt badly enough in the last recession that we’re not overly optimistic.”

Opheikens adds that he—and many other contractors—are also worried about a subcontractor base, because they are all so busy right now. “How do we make a sub want to come work for us when they’re being pulled in 25 different directions?” he says. “We’d love to do every project that comes our way, but we just don’t have the capacity [without enough subcontractors].”

Roger Jackson, president at FFKR Architects, echoed similar sentiments. “We’re busy. We are having a hard time finding people to work, and if we could find the right people, we’d hire some more,” he says. “I talked to another architect in town and he said the same thing. We both asked each other not to steal each other’s people.”

Another concern is cost of materials, which have been on the rise the last few years, says Opheikens. “Material prices are going up, so many of the budgets that clients were relying on a couple of years ago are much higher, and because of that, more multifamily type projects are being pushed back because clients’ budgets can’t be met. But those are just the prices today. And the labor costs for employees have also gone up substantially over the last two years.”

Despite these concerns, most contractors do remain optimistic overall, even welcoming the idea of a slight slowdown in the future.

“We see strength throughout the state, especially up and down the Wasatch Front,” says Rindlisbacher. “I think we’ll continue to see growth even though it may start to moderate a little bit. But perhaps it’s time for just a little bit of a pause to let things settle down a bit.”