By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the February 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
The opening of the 2006-07 school year presented a new facility to more than 1,700 students in the Dallas Independent School Distric little ovt (Dallas ISD). Built in aer a year, the new educational complex in the Vickery area of Dallas welcomed children ranging from pre-K up to the eighth grade.
But the facility is not an ordinary K-8 school. In fact, it is two separate schools, which operate independently from each other. The Jack Lowe, Sr. Elementary School houses students pre-K through fifth grade; the Sam Tasby Middle School is home to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. The schools are connected at a central core containing a shared kitchen/food preparation area and a central utility plant. An auditorium, also shared, is located in the middle school.
Totalling 222,000 square feet, the two schools were constructed to meet the needs of a growing student population throughout Dallas ISD. An influx of families with school age children into the surrounding area meant students residing in the Vickery region were being bused to schools outside of their neighborhoods. District officials wanted to address this situation in order to allow these children to attend schools nearer to home.
In 2002, district voters authorized a $1.3 billion bond program for acquiring, constructing, renovating, improving, and equipping school buildings and purchasing sites. To manage the program, Dallas ISD then established a construction services department to oversee improvements.
In early 2005, the district turned to this program to focus on building an elementary school for the Vickery area. Shortly after that decision was made, district officials decided to construct an adjoining middle school on the site as well.
The shared facility concept was the first of its kind for Dallas ISD, and the main driver in this decision was to maximize the investment of resources. Phil Jimerson, associate superintendent, construction services for Dallas ISD explains, “The co-location of the schools was driven by property values in the area. Vacant property was non-existent. In fact, the district had to purchase existing apartment complexes and raze them to make room for the schools on the 18-acre site. In addition to significant savings realized in land purchases, combining the two schools into one facility saved approximately $5 million in construction costs.”
Mapping It Out
The project team determined that constructing only one auditorium, kitchen, and central utility plant would keep costs down, while retaining the goal of maintaining the autonomy of each school.
PHOTO: Brown Reynolds Watford Architects
With that objective in mind, district officials addressed the overall goals and guidelines from the start of the planning process to steer the design of the complex.
In planning the physical layout, several strategies were used to keep the two student populations apart throughout the day. For one, the main entrances of Lowe and Tasby are at opposite ends of the building, where expansive entry areas and sidewalks set back from the street provide a safe place for students to gather. Additionally, each school has independent outdoor playing fields to minimize interaction between the elementary school and the middle school students.
The focus on separation involved not only physical considerations but management issues as well. As such, the schools are operated as separate entities with their own principals and facility managers. Still, the shared spaces mean that the facility manager of each school must coordinate his usage and maintenance with respect to those areas.
This was something new to Michael Gonzalez and James Johnson, the facility managers hired from within the district to work in Lowe and Tasby, respectively. It was crucial to establish who was responsible for what in the shared spaces. Some of these decisions were more clear cut than others.
For instance, the auditorium is used by both schools but is located in the Tasby facility. As such, Johnson and his staff are responsible for the maintenance of the space. Still, the Lowe facilities staff assists as needed.
PHOTO: Dallas ISD
Operating the other shared spaces—the kitchen and central plant—also requires ongoing communication between the facility managers. Specifically, Gonzalez and Johnson collaborate closely on central plant operations, since the HVAC equipment is billed on one meter. Part of this joint stewardship is shared responsibility for system start-up and data logging.
The complex is outfitted with one security system, with each facility manager assigned his own code for his respective facility. This enables each one to access the shared spaces, while creating a record of which school is using the space. As part of their initial meetings, the facility staff decided that Gonzalez would be the initial security contact person for both schools; he in turn notifies Johnson when a security or safety issue arises.
When the decision to build the schools was made in early 2005, Dallas ISD officials decided they wanted students to be able to attend the new schools for the 2006-07 school year. With a timeline of approximately 13 months, the project team members focused on incorporating efficiencies into the process.
As one of the finalists for general contractor on the job (though not officially chosen), McCarthy Building Companies of Dallas, TX decided to get the ball rolling by directing its steel supplier to begin production for the schools.
“We identified early in the bid process that delivery of the structural steel was a major key to the success of the project,” says James Leppo, a project director at McCarthy. “So, prior to the district executing the contract and issuing the Notice to Proceed, we met with our steel fabricator and made an agreement to commence the development of the steel fabrication drawings.”
Once Dallas ISD granted McCarthy the contract, the work commenced, and weekly and monthly meetings were held to ensure the schedule remained on track. As the process approached completion, additional parties were included in these meetings, including the two principals and facility managers.
“It was interesting to see the different concerns,” recalls Leppo. “Each principal had concerns specific to his or her own student body. For example, the elementary school principal was concerned with the separation of the older middle school students from the younger children.”
The task of opening the schools for the coming school year was a success. The facility received a certificate for substantial completion in July 2006.
PHOTO: Dallas ISD
In listing the various challenges faced to meet the timeline, Leppo points out that this is also what made the project interesting. “Building a middle school in 13 months is generally a challenge,” he says. “Including an elementary school under the same roof made it more so.
“Add to that,” continues Leppo, “the layout of the building (very few 90° angles); the soil conditioning requirements (having to remove and reinstall between 7′ to 13′ of existing soil under the structure); numerous interfaces between the building enclosure materials (cast stone, brick, plaster, storefront, curtainwall, and composite panels); and a large amount of ceramic tile (the majority of corridor walls in the middle school were tile), and we had quite a few scheduling challenges.”
A Smart Move
Most facility managers opening a brand new building have experienced positive feedback from the occupants. The Jack Lowe, Sr. and Sam Tasby schools are no different.
“I love the bright and colorful atmosphere,” says TaKiyah Wallace, a teacher at Jack Lowe, Sr. “I believe it fosters creativity and happiness amongst the students, which is very important to me as an educator. We are also fortunate to have many luxuries not present at previous schools where I have taught. I am able to teach using the latest technologies in a comfortable environment.”
The youngsters seem to appreciate their surroundings as well. Fourth grader Blerina Berisha says, “The classrooms are my favorite part of our building, because they are bright and filled with a lot of light.”
Says Jimerson, “The Dallas Independent School District is proud to offer high quality, modern learning environments. The schools opened on time, much to the delight of students and their families. The taxpayers of Dallas can be proud.”
This article was based on interviews with Jimerson (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Leppo (email@example.com).