The COVID-19 pandemic affected every aspect of life, including the way communities expand school districts. For the Natomas Unified School District just outside of Sacramento, CA a collaborative approach to construction gave the district a higher value project, despite challenges during the pandemic.
The district built the new Paso Verde K-8 School complete with four classroom buildings, an administration and classroom building, and a multi-purpose building housing the gym, locker rooms, stage, music and arts, and foodservice — and along the way saved millions of dollars. The project was built under California’s lease/leaseback statute that allows a school district to lease property it owns to a developer, who in turn builds a school facility on the property and leases the facility back to the school district. The benefit of this arrangement is that the school district can select the builder on multiple factors and is able to work with them in a collaborative manner.
According to Jennifer Mellor, the director of facilities for the Natomas Unified School District, the agreement is a preferred delivery method for larger-dollar contracts.
“Usually if a project is hard bid, the architect designs the building, it is submitted to the state for approval, we bid out the project, the contractor builds according to the plans and that’s it,” Mellor said. “With the lease/leaseback provision the contractor comes in early, and we build a collaborative team where we meet together to review design and work the process.”
The school district broke ground in May 2019. The Boldt Company, a nationally recognized construction management firm headquartered in Appleton, WI, was working on the project from concept through operation and maintenance of the school, but the construction team was working on the project long before this time. Boldt is a nationally recognized leader in Integrated Lean Project Delivery® within a variety of markets including healthcare, industrial, commercial, and energy and power.
In total, the project team was able to work collaboratively to reduce the budget $5 million on a $60 million project without having to sacrifice functionality or look of the new school campus.
“You really need knowledge on the construction side,” Mellor said. “Boldt has an extensive self-performing labor department and that helps to control costs in labor on the job and materials.” She adds that during the construction process, estimates showed the project would not be within budget and that is when the construction and design team provided options for bottom line savings.
Some of the more significant changes:
- The design called for overhead folding doors and Boldt’s pre-construction managers suggested swapping them with a storefront window application for a savings of $1,652,567.
- Teams changed enclosure systems to a Hardie siding system, and Tyvek commercial wrap was used as a weather barrier in lieu of a fluid-applied barrier for a savings of $1,503,157.
- Spray-lock was used instead of a vapor emission control system for a savings of $364,795.
- Crews used fabric and Class II aggregate base in lieu of lime treating soils under on-site hardscape for a savings of $259,252.
- Boldt eliminated intersection manhole work and modified only the existing manhole base channeling for a savings of $163,492.
- Concrete cast-in-place seat walls were used in lieu of precast for a savings of about $163,492.
“We have found when people are in a solution-oriented culture, everyone is working toward providing the same value and finding what’s right for the school district,” said Brooke Higman, project executive for The Boldt Company.
Higman said more school districts are feeling the pressure for facility expansion because the pandemic has made work-from-home arrangements more acceptable to employers. Families that were once tied to metropolitan areas due to jobs are now able to move to more suburban and rural communities which may be the catalyst for school expansion. “We had a great collaborative experience at Natomas which shows the opportunity school districts have to get target-value design using the lease/leaseback statute,” Higman said.
Overcoming COVID Challenges
During construction, the impact of COVID took the form of major disruptions to the supply chain for building materials and halted typical communication on the job site. The project supply chain was impacted by shutdowns in manufacturing plants and transportation delays as supplies were re-routed to combat COVID. The cement shortage in Northern California significantly slowed down concrete installation on site. Manufacturing delays affected windows, roofing, flooring, and casework. Flooring that was manufactured in South Korea had to be re-sourced, and materials manufactured in California had to be shifted to manufacturing facilities in Texas and Kentucky.
Construction crews were impacted by new COVID safety protocols and absences due to COVID exposure. Although construction was impacted the building was originally designed for collaborative learning and used extensive outdoor classrooms and spaces for instruction, so no changes were needed to comply with social distancing. However, air handling units received more scrutiny.
“The system was designed above and beyond what was needed, but we had to make sure it was operating to the highest capacity before occupancy,” said Bobby Barney, Boldt project manager. “We conducted thorough testing and balancing prior to opening.”
All services were delivered in a collaborative arrangement that the school district credits for reducing costs and adding value. Even through a historically challenged year, the project team was able to navigate through the challenges together.
“One of the biggest advantages was the pre-construction services in a lease/leaseback agreement,” Mellor said. “Boldt was able to see the plans early, identify the cost and time savings and those are services you don’t get with a hard bid.”
Key facts about Paso Verde School
- New construction included a 19-acre campus, with six buildings, approximately 38 teaching stations, and over 90,000 square feet; serving approximately 1,000 students.
- The campus includes an administration building, gymnasium with locker rooms, science labs, cafeteria/multipurpose/gym with art and music room, amphitheater, and outdoor learning/garden.
- Program is STEAM focused with collaboration spaces and outdoor learning environments.
- Project broke ground in May of 2019 and was completed March 22, 2021.
- Design partner was Lionakis Architects of Sacramento.