School’s out for the summer, and construction crews are hitting the halls of learning, as school districts take advantage of their break to address a wide array of improvements and upgrades at their facilities.
Ranked #6 in the nation for K-12 Education School Construction, KA’s K-12 project teams are very busy during the narrow window of opportunity that opens during summer break. Construction Executive Chad Rettke gives a primer on some of the know-how that goes into the effort.
Q: How many school projects are we’re working on during this summer?
CHAD RETTKE: With the increase in school work, we’ve gotten busier. Currently we are managing nearly 70 education projects in nearly 25 districts in three states.
Q: What is the scope of the work?
CHAD RETTKE: We deal with a lot of deferred maintenance issues– roof replacements, secured entries, mechanical upgrades; site improvements which can include new bus loops, parking, athletic fields, etc. Also there is a lot of classroom and commons area reconfiguration and optimization. People think of KA as doing big jobs, but a significant part of this work is small-scale improvements like restroom upgrades or painting; or a combination of small remodeling along with a major addition for classrooms or auditoriums. Frequently we are working in various areas and phases throughout the facility and the school campus. And in many cases we are working in multiple facilities for a district.
Q: Are we seeing any patterns in terms of newer technologies that are in demand?
CHAD RETTKE: With the mechanical upgrades, most of the buildings we’re working in are still on steam boilers, which are not very efficient systems. Although not a “new” technology, all the boilers we’re changing out are hot water hydronic boilers, which are more efficient to run than steam. We’re also seeing more changeover to card access rather than key access systems. Also with the better price point, we are seeing the change to LED lighting in buildings.
Q: Talk about the construction schedule.
CHAD RETTKE: It is typically a 45-day window. We are effective thanks to all the planning and proactive effort at the front end.
Q: How far out does planning begin for this work?
CHAD RETTKE: About 18 months before the summer the work will be performed. We’re already on next year’s cycle, already working on 2018.
CHAD RETTKE: We work backwards from the school last day of school (our construction start date). We need to look at how much time we will need in the schedule for each component, and the subcontractors involved.
We build in time for the bid process to select contractors. In Minnesota we work under the Construction Management-Agency delivery method, acting as agent for the district, which in turn holds all the contracts. In other states where we work under the Construction Manager at Risk model, we directly select the subcontractor team and hold the contracts. Either way we are intensely involved in the bid process.
We need to build in time for the architect and engineers to do their work. If I want to bid and I need a month of bid time, how much time does the architect need ahead of that?
Also when you bid is based on the economy. Three years ago if you were bid out by mid-March, you were fine. Now we are bidding in September-October-November to get on the subs’ calendars.
Then once contractors are selected, then how much time do we need to plan for submittals, ordering materials early enough for when you need them on site? You also need to review any coordination between trades, and finalize any sizing verifications (well ahead of dong the work), that way when you start in June, you’re not worried about field verification on your windows or casework.
Then you have to factor in time for, permitting and approval of submittals. That can take two or three months.
Q: What are some of those long lead time materials that are involved ?
CHAD RETTKE: Mechanical equipment including HVAC units, rooftop units, pumps, Chillers, induction units can be 6-12 weeks lead time. Window replacement and glazing. You can’t plan on field measuring. Casework you want to lock in early. Steel work- new roof units need steel to support and you need to build in fabrication time. Lighting, fixtures, switch gear, electrical components all can take 6-10 weeks. Then some of the finishes, tile, some is non-standard.
Q: As a construction manager, KA does not self-perform most of the work. How is that a benefit to schools?
CHAD RETTKE: We are able to provide opportunities for local contractor participation, which supports the local economies in the communities in which we work. And we have an open book accounting system, so our school clients have complete access to how their budgets are being allocated.
Q: We are in a very busy construction cycle, and that means subcontractors are in high demand. How do we secure the resources get the work done?
CHAD RETTKE: That’s where it gets interesting. One strategy is if you can smooth out that work flow into either side of the summer. If you have a little addition, look to start that phase in March, or lag the addition into fall, that can give you a better edge in terms of getting subs’ participation. For example at Edina Schools’ Cornelia Elementary we’re doing a gym addition and two classrooms in two areas of the building. That is more than a three-month project, so we’ve phased it so we can start mid-March and wrap in fall for start of school. Having some work that is outside of the summer helps.
Q: How does the construction manager’s work interface with new mechanical systems?
CHAD RETTKE: There are state mandates on publicly funded projects for third party commissioning review of mechanical systems, which are highly complex systems today. The third party performs a functional test of the system, control system, sequence of operations, to ensure it is installed correctly and tested. We are present making sure all is set to go. Also, even though school starts we remain in the building, in non-instructional spaces like the Boiler room to wrap up final items, and follow up with seasonal testing of the Mechanical equipment, as there’s not enough load to test and modify the heating system as of the first day of school.
Q: With so much school work happening in such a tight window, how do you manage internal and external resources?
CHAD RETTKE: One good thing is, because we’ve got so much of the market we can talk amongst our internal PM’s to share resources and master plan the work in its entirety. We meet internally, work out how we can rearrange schedules to move critical pieces forward at the right time and get the jobs done.
Q: Any advice for a school district that’s looking at construction in its future?
CHAD RETTKE: It’s never too early to start planning. Even if you don’t have the funding, that doesn’t matter. We understand and can assist in more than just the construction side, with facilities analysis and advice on funding options and opportunities. We’re here to help.