How Accurate Utility Locating & Mapping Will Guide Student Housing Build-Out

How Accurate Utility Locating & Mapping Will Guide Student Housing Build-Out

A $631-million student housing project at the University of Michigan is a response to an ongoing trend which has seen college students embrace living solutions as close as possible to their classes and on-campus amenities.

The University of Michigan recently announced that it was moving forward with the construction of five residence halls totaling 2,300 student beds plus a 900-seat dining facility, to be located on its main campus in Ann Arbor. According to an article featured in Engineering News-Record, the university says the buildings are designed to incorporate all-electric, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, a high-performance building envelope and rooftop solar panels. The dining hall will use geothermal exchange systems for heating and cooling.

A conceptual rendering of a college dorm building.
Rendering by RAMSA courtesy of Engineering News-Record of a new student housing project at the University of Michigan, which will see the addition of 2,300 student beds plus a 900-seat dining facility.

The project was designed with the goal of earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) platinum certification, meeting standards in the categories of Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design.

American Campus Communities is leading the development of the project, which would be the largest third-party development in the student housing sector to date, according to the firm’s executive vice president of P3 partnership, James Wilhelm.

Wilhelm told ENR that developing the housing site with the project’s design team “allows us to tap into broad experience of combining modern amenities conducive to student residents’ academic and personal success with the highest green building standards.”

U of M is looking to alleviate a current shortage of on-campus student housing with the project, which is the first residence halls built for first-year Wolverines on the university’s central campus since 1963. The school’s student-to-bed ratio has dropped from 40% in 2004 to 28% today.

Michigan isn’t the only university currently experiencing an on-campus housing shortage. Iowa’s public universities are currently seeing an uptick in interest in on-campus living from both new and returning students who wish to eliminate their commute to class and stay involved in school activities.

According to an article in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a near-record number of returning students at the University of Northern Iowa submitted housing contract renewals for the Spring 2024 semester. In total, around 3,200 UNI students chose to live on campus – almost 3% more than the school’s occupancy the previous semester and the highest number since 2018.

The Dispatch said it’s a similar story at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa.

“Students recognize that living on campus kind of affords a lot of convenience in terms of access to resources, said Nick Rafanello, UNI Assistant Vice President & Executive Director for Housing & Dining. “You’re more likely to be involved with student organizations, with faculty, with academic major programs. I think there’s also just a general sense of increased engagement, and so you’re able to access and utilize what campus has to offer without having to worry about coming back to campus to get involved.”

Exterior of an apartment complex.
Purpose-built, off-campus student housing is being built as close as possible to the universities they serve, as students prioritize a short commute to class.

College students who are going off-campus for housing aren’t going very far. An article published recently in The New York Times said that much like the current trend in on-campus housing, off-campus complexes are going bigger with ample amenities. And the private firms building these complexes are looking for parcels of land as close as possible to the campuses they’ll serve.

Dan Goldberg, president of off-campus student housing builder Core Spaces, told the Times that the trend of “purpose-built student housing farther and farther away from campus,” has peaked, and that his company now typically builds “15 to 20-story high-rises as close to campus as possible.”

“…The college students want to be able to roll out of bed and go to class,” Goldberg added.

Build with Confidence

Whether you’re building on or off-campus housing, it’s a good bet that there’s a web of buried utilities hidden under your project site.

Damaging one of these utilities while excavating can derail a project’s schedule and budget, and even endanger the lives of the workers on site.

Your first step toward understanding the subsurface infrastructure of your job site is to contact your state 811 one-call service to provide you with the approximate location of all public utilities in the area.

It’s important to remember, however, that 811 contractors do not locate private utilities, which make up approximately 60% of our subsurface infrastructure. You’ll need to contact a professional private utility locating company like GPRS to locate and map these lines for you and ensure your dig area is free of obstructions.

GPRS’ SIM and NASSCO-certified Project Managers utilize a variety of non-destructive technologies to visualize what’s below ground.

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) utilizes radio waves to locate both metallic and non-metallic objects underground or within concrete. The GPR unit emits the waves into the surface being investigated, and they’ll interact with any objects they encounter and then reflect up to the unit. These interactions will be displayed in a readout of hyperbolas varying in size and shape depending on the type of material located.

GPRS Project Managers (PMs) are specially trained to interpret the results of a GPR scan to tell you what kind of materials were located under your job site, or within your concrete slab.

To compliment GPR imaging, our PMs are also outfitted with electromagnetic (EM) locators. These devices detect the electromagnetic signals radiating from metallic pipes and electrical conduit and can use these signals to both locate and map the utilities themselves.

To map and inspect wastewater infrastructure, GPRS deploys remote-controlled sewer inspection rovers and push-fed camera snakes. These devices are equipped with sondes: instrument probes that emit a signal that our EM locators can detect and allow for mapping of otherwise unreachable subsurface utilities.

When you hire GPRS to inspect your sewer and storm lines – a process we call video pipe inspection –  you receive a detailed, WinCan report of all defects identified in your system. These defects are geolocated, ranked by severity, and identified with both photo and video evidence so you can see the problem yourself, you know exactly where you need to dig to conduct repairs, and you can prioritize your maintenance planning.

From skyscrapers to sewer lines, GPRS Intelligently Visualizes The Built World® to keep your projects on time, on budget, and safe.

What can we help you visualize? Click below to schedule a service or request a quote today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Benefits of Underground Utility Mapping?

Having an updated and accurate map of your subsurface infrastructure reduces accidents, budget overruns, change orders, and project downtime caused by dangerous and costly subsurface damage.

How does SiteMap® assist with Utility Mapping?

SiteMap®, powered by GPRS, is the industry-leading infrastructure management program. It is a single source of truth, housing the 99.8%+ accurate utility locating, concrete scanning, video pipe inspection, leak detection, and 3D laser scanning data our Project Managers collect on your job site. And the best part is you get a complimentary SiteMap® Personal Subscription when GPRS performs a utility locate for you.

Click here to learn more.

Does SiteMap® Work with my Existing GIS Platform?

SiteMap® allows for exporting of data to SHP, GeoJSON, GeoPackage, and DXF directly from any user’s account that either owns or has a job shared to their account. All these file formats can be imported and utilized by other GIS packages if manually imported by the user. More information can be found at