The University of Colorado's campus model was created in the early 1980s and last updated a decade ago, with tiny buildings whittled out of wood and pre-dating a campus construction boom.

But instead of hiring an outside contractor to build a current-day model, Facilities Management has instead tapped tech-savvy environmental design students to tackle the project -- a strategy that could save the campus money while giving undergraduates a practical learning experience.

The students in Jade Polizzi's Maymester course, "Model building: Reimagining a new campus model" used high-tech equipment to create the new campus model. Among the technology they used was CU's new three-dimensional printer, MakerBot Replicator 2, which was purchased specifically for students' coursework.

Polizzi is planning a second course for the spring 2014 semester, where environmental design students will complete the model.

Students in Polizzi's class reimagined the campus model so it included construction projects that are a part of the modern-day campus landscape, including a biotechnology building on the East Campus, the Center for Community student services hub in the heart of campus and a new dorm tower in the Williams Village complex.

The students scaled the model so 1 inch equals 100 feet. (By that model, for example, the Wolf Law building can fit in the palm of your hand).

Now, when campus planners haul the current unwieldy campus model to meetings -- whether to plot out snow removal routes or point out safety routes -- it requires a little imagination because the campus has changed so much over the past decade.


Polizzi told her students that the ability to create affordable and "photo-realistic" computer models and renderings had nearly eliminated the need for physical models. But now with rapid-prototype machinery, laser cutters and computer numerical control machines, physical models are making a comeback and are being viewed with more value than before.

Polizzi said she hopes the students who took her Maymester course will have a competitive edge because of the experience they gained with advanced technology. Maymester is an intensive, three-week semester at CU.

The manufacturing industry will be revolutionized by software-driven technology, she said.

"Design students have an advantage because they are taught to visualize and graphically model three-dimensional objects through computers," she said.

Once a science-fiction fantasy, three-dimensional printers are popping up everywhere from the desks of home hobbyists to Air Force drone research centers.

Invisalign, a San Jose company, uses 3-D printing to make mouthfuls of customized, transparent braces. Mackenzies Chocolates, a confectioner in Santa Cruz, uses a 3-D printer to pump out chocolate molds. And earlier this year, Cornell University researchers used a 3-D printer, along with injections of a collagen gel, to create a human-shaped ear.

Working with Facilities Management as a client also added value to the CU design students' work, Polizzi said.

"The experience of working with a client is quite valuable and something that isn't typically done until after the completion of graduate school, when these designers are working in an architectural firm or other professional practice," she said.

Facilities Management, she said, got early bids as high as $80,000 for creating the model, and students have been able to do the work at just a fraction of the cost, only requiring the equipment.

Students have been pitching ideas for their model -- including the possibility of using clear filaments to create buildings that can light up, which might be helpful when campus designers want to draw attention to an area during a presentation.

Last week, the Maymester students closed out their coursework by presenting their designs to Facilities Management.

"Their ability to work as a team and the excitement about having a real client pulled them together," said Tom Goodhew, campus planner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or