Driving along Potomac Ave in Alexandria, Virginia, local residents find it impossible to miss the two towering cranes anchoring the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus construction site. More than 100 people work on the site for Academic Building One daily, and building progress is set to rise above ground this summer.

Construction crews are completing an approximately 170-space underground parking garage, and by August, structural steel will emerge above the two-story garage and foundation system. The building will ultimately rise 11 stories.

“This caps an incredible effort to date by a highly skilled team and opens the door for the next phase of this future building,” said Travis Jessee, senior project manager for the Innovation Campus and supervisory capital project manager for Virginia Tech's Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities.

The first phase of this massive project, situated on approximately 3.5 acres in the Potomac Yard neighborhood of National Landing, is running on schedule. Crews broke ground in September 2021 at the site adjacent to the future Potomac Yard-VT Metrorail Station.

mock-up wall, innovation campus academic building one
Ken Smith, chief operating officer of the Innovation Campus (center), and Travis Jessee, supervisory project manager for Virginia Tech's Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities (left), discuss the mock-up wall for Innovation Campus Academic Building One. Photo by Franki Fitterer for Virginia Tech

The large crew from construction partner Whiting-Turner is orchestrating activities that include massive concrete placements of up to 1,400 cubic yards at a time. Crews have also had the challenge of working below the water table, which means that they are building underwater. There are 20 deep wells running all of the time to pump out water from the site. The wells have pumped approximately 41.5 million gallons of water since construction started, Jessee said.

The Whiting-Turner site crew includes Senior Project Manager Summer Cleary ’00. Cleary began working for Whiting-Turner after graduating from Virginia Tech with a major in civil engineering. She oversees the Innovation Campus site, which is the third largest project she has worked on in her career. All of Cleary’s projects for Whiting-Turner have been located in Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

“Living in Alexandria, I never thought the chance to work on a Virginia Tech project would arise – it’s a great opportunity,” said Cleary, who visits Blacksburg a few times a year to represent Whiting-Turner at job fairs. “It is exciting to be part of a project that will provide a new learning environment for students.”

Virginia Tech expects to welcome students, faculty, and staff into the completed 300,000 square foot building in the fall of 2024. Plans call for two other buildings, measuring about 150,000 square feet each, to be built as the campus grows.

Once complete, the Innovation Campus, designed by SmithGroup, will provide instruction, research, office, and support spaces for graduate-level programs in computer science and computer engineering and select other programs. There also will be flexible multi-purpose areas, research and testing labs, and maker spaces. A virtual tour is available online for viewing of interior and exterior 3D renderings of Academic Building One.

For the next two academic years, classes for the Innovation Campus Master of Engineering program will continue to be offered at the university’s Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church. Additional updates on the Innovation Campus faculty, curriculum, and research areas can be found in this story about Dr. Lance Collins' recent update to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

“Connector” to open for visitors

Whiting-Turner and Virginia Tech have also partnered on the development of a new “connector” project set to open in July. The connector is a physical information hub that displays highlights about the Innovation Campus, its goals, and construction updates. Visitors to the construction site during work hours will be able to walk through the connector – the size of a shipping container – to learn more about the mission of the new campus through videos, renderings, and other visual communications. The Innovation Campus marketing team partnered with local Alexandria small business (SWAM) Banana Banner to produce the new signage and displays for the project.

“The connector will provide a unique opportunity for the public to stay engaged with the project and be able to watch the physical progress of our first academic building,” said David Baker, director of government and community affairs for Virginia Tech. “Part of what will make the Innovation Campus unique is its porous boundaries and the constant exchange of information and ideas that flow into and out of the campus. We want everyone in the greater D.C. region to feel like they belong at the Innovation Campus, and the Connector provides that critical first step.”

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