Many colleges have a hero who injects life into its campus. For some universities, it’s a star football player; at others, it’s a student body president who’s as popular on the quad as the Pope is in the Vatican.
Every now and then, there’s someone working behind the scenes in the administration that deserves similar praise. Enter Brian Pratt, campus architect and associate vice chancellor at the University of California Irvine (UCI); he leads the university’s Design & Construction Services (DCS) group, which handles more than $2 billion worth of projects on campus.
The recognition is there—project partners of Pratt’s are quick to attest to his skills. “We’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Brian and his team to retrofit numerous buildings on campus,” says James Awford, project executive and principal of BNBuilders. “His leadership style and collaborative approach to delivering projects with practical solutions has proven to be a recipe for success.”
Since his arrival to UCI in 2014, Pratt has laid down the foundation for DCS to thrive as a behind-the-scenes change agent on campus. Before DCS began to play a large role in the growth of UC Irvine, Pratt expanded its services by handpicking talented teams of inspectors, project managers, and contract specialists, all with a common goal.
“I think to survive and to do well in this environment, you need to be committed to the [UC Irvine] mission and be relentless in ensuring it’s met on each project,” Pratt says. “They don’t just reinforce it. They help shape it.”
Once Pratt noticed the early returns from his staff, he hired plan reviewers, financial analysts, and quality assurance coordinators that bolstered the credibility of DCS. Soon, DCS had transformed into a dynamic department with 21 employees with a need to approximately double.
Still, Pratt knew that working smarter—not harder—would be key to leaving a lasting impact on the 37,000 students and more than 1,500 faculty members at UCI. Like all University of California schools, UC Irvine has committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2025. The school has been investing in the sustainability of its open facilities, and Pratt is helping to ensure that this becomes a reality.
For example, Pratt and his team are implementing a Central Utility Plant as part of UCI’s new hospital. The project makes it easier for the UC Irvine Medical Center Irvine to manage its utilities. The UC Irvine Medical Center Irvine will rely on it to enhance patient care in the region, including cancer treatment, surgeries, and ICU support.
The icing on the cake? The plant is 100 percent electric, reducing energy consumption and lowering maintenance costs across the medical campus.
“The only fossil fuels that would be burned would be diesel fuel for an emergency generator in the event of a major catastrophe that brought down our electrical feeds,” Pratt says.
Pratt thrives as a servant leader who listens to his team and acts as a practical diplomat who’s three steps ahead. He anticipates what everyone needs, which allows him to find common ground and create win-win opportunities.
“It’s always a balance,” Pratt says. “There are a lot of stakeholders on a campus, ranging from campus leadership, right down to students, faculty, and staff. So it’s really just exercising good judgment and trying to offer good advice to campus leadership and other stakeholders.”
The results are impressive. UC Irvine’s 21 LEED Platinum projects lead the nation for college campuses. Pratt and his team got approval to break ground on a $1.3 billion hospital complex that includes 144 acute care beds, an emergency room, and the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. They’re also building the Joe C. Wen and Family Center for Advanced Care, including multi-specialty clinics, urgent care, an autism center, and pediatrics.
Overall, that’s more than 1.5 million square feet of combined space of a total current construction portfolio of more than 4 million square feet. Pratt points out the important role that his team plays in accomplishing all this work. “I can’t emphasize enough how professional, skilled, and committed they are,” he says.
“That’s a credit to the team here, but also to our industry partners and our design and build teams because they’re also very focused on the right outcome for a project. Hopefully we treat them in a manner that they’ll want to come back and do more projects for the university.”
Because, Pratt adds, “If we can better a patient’s life or contribute to a breakthrough in research or impact an incoming freshman’s college career? That’s pretty cool.”