Managing Expectations on K12 Capital Construction Projects

by Ron Gillespie

I’d like to devote this discussion to a topic recently covered at the meeting of the Southern Finger Lakes Chapter, NYS School Facilities Association held at Welliver’s corporate offices in March. The topic of the presentation was Construction Management: Expectations and Considerations related to K12 capital projects. I’d like to call out some key points from that presentation that could be helpful to districts considering future capital initiatives or planning their first project in many years. Most of this discussion is not hard fast rules, rather items and practices that might help your project go a little smoother and ensure a successful project and future plan.

When considering a capital project, the most critical part of the plan is going to be your capital project team. A portion of this team should include key district members ranging from school board to staff/parent representatives to other community members. The team also needs two other key components – the A&E and Construction Management companies. These two firms will guide and assist the district through the entire capital process beginning with planning, budgeting, and pre-referendum support; to construction through close out; and then any development of a future capital plan. It is imperative that both the A&E firm and the construction manager be selected and present on the team from the earliest possible point to provide design/planning support, accurate scope and budgeting estimates, and even pre-referendum support leading up to a successful vote. This team must function as one, be in constant communication, and always prioritize the needs of the school district and community to be successful.

As you are planning your capital project, it is important to understand that regardless of all the best laid plans, there will be bumps in the road along the way. There will be unexpected discoveries during demo that were not visible previously, possible material delays, and many other surprises that could affect your schedule and/or budget. When these things occur, it is critical you have the right team in place to work through the problem with minimal effect on schedule, cost, and project scope. With today’s volatile economy and slow delivery times and availability these issues are compounded.

How will you fund your project? What will the cost be to the local taxpayer? Although some districts receive as much as 98% state aid for capital work, most receive much less. There are many different funding resources that can be combined with a capital project that can enable you to increase scope or reduce the local share, or both. EPC’s, capital outlays, Smart Bond, federal funding, and rebates are some of the options that might provide some relief to an already strained capital budget.

When construction begins it is important to have the adequate amount of construction management to support the project. For instance, how many buildings will be involved in construction at the same time? How many days a week will contractors be working in your buildings? Do these needs change through different phases of the project? These are important considerations in ensuring that your project has the proper and efficient supervision and management to be successful.

When the work is complete and the contractors go home the work of the A&E and construction management team is not done. There are stacks of forms and close out documents that must be filed with State Ed before any state aid will begin to flow. The construction manager works closely with the district Business Official to help ensure that this process goes smoothly and efficiently. And then, the next task that is often addressed is for the capital project team to develop a capital plan that might include future projects if a long-range capital plan is not already in place.

In any case, every capital project is exciting and challenging, and in the end extremely rewarding to everyone that plays a part in its success.

Ron brings a significant depth of knowledge and experience overseeing capital improvement projects for K-12 schools. He is the former Director of School Facilities and Operations for the Corning-Painted Post Central School District. Ron cultivated a 36-year career managing all facilities and grounds, maintenance, and capital projects for the district. Ron joins the Welliver team as K-12 Project Liaison. His focus is on assisting school districts with capital planning and project execution. Ron can be reached at [email protected]