Auburn’s New Construction Lab Recreates a Job Site

The Robins & Morton Construction Field Lab is the result of a gift of more than $1.3 million from construction firm Robins & Morton. Faculty, staff and leadership with Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction joined representatives from Robins & Morton to celebrate the new facility’s dedication on March 4.

Robins & Morton has teamed up with Auburn University to provide construction students with real-world, hands-on training through the new Robins & Morton Construction Field Laboratory for Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction.

“The field lab is a teaching and research facility that allows our students and faculty to experience the full range of construction management, including building assemblies in full scale and testing new construction materials and processes,” said Vini Nathan, dean of the College of Architecture, Design and Construction.

Robins & Morton donated $1.3 million to create the first-of-its-kind lab, which features a high-bay building with four bays, two of which are fully enclosed and protected from the elements. With 30-foot ceilings, the facility gives students the opportunity to build taller structures that might need to utilize scaffolding. In addition to the bays, there is storage for tools and materials and an onsite classroom modeled after real-life construction management settings.

The Robins & Morton Construction Field Lab recreates a construction job site, giving students hands-on field training.

“We’re not teaching them to be masons or carpenters, but I think it’s really important that our students understand fully what the construction trades do: how difficult it is, the skills needed, the environment you have to work in,” said McWhorter School of Building Science head Richard Burt.

The lab is designed to recreate an active construction site, complete with indoor and outdoor spaces to demonstrate building processes. “We believe field experience is critical to a successful career in our industry,” said Robins & Morton Chairman and CEO Bill Morton. “The field lab allows students the opportunity to combine experience in the field with a formal classroom education. We’re very excited to have this opportunity to partner with Auburn University to advance the learning process for the next generation of construction professionals.”

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The field lab also allows visiting tradespeople to demonstrate their crafts. “One of the biggest challenges we see recent graduates face when they begin their careers is adapting to the pace and complexity of a construction project and understanding how to collaborate with project team members and trade contractors,” said Aimee Comer, vice president of people and development for Robins & Morton.

The lab also will be used by faculty for research projects and to support community service projects, such as builds for Habitat for Humanity. In addition, it will be used for outreach events like Construction Management Summer Academy for Young Women and the Building Construction Summer Camp for rising high school juniors and seniors.

Robins & Morton is a privately held construction firm, founded in 1946, and headquartered in Birmingham. Since its founding, it has completed more than 1,500 projects in 35 states. Within the last 10 years, it has completed nearly $10 billion in projects throughout the country. In 2019, it was ranked no. 2 contractor by Modern Healthcare, and it is the third largest general contractor in Alabama, as ranked by value of contracts awarded in 2018, according to Business Alabama’s annual survey.

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