When a construction project is named after Galileo, the renowned 15th century Italian physicists dubbed the "Father of Modern Physics," the pressure is on to build something fairly magnificent — especially if, when completed, it will serve as a place where children will learn the wonders of math and science themselves.
Between Eagle and Meridian, Idaho, on Linder Road, the Meridian Joint School District is building an 85,235-square-foot combined elementary and junior high school that will be christened this fall as the Galileo Math and Science Magnet School. A magnet school (as described by the Meridian district) is a school of choice, or a school within a school, designed around a unique instructional approach, area of emphasis, student population — even the school calendar.
Boise-based CM Company Inc. is serving as the construction management firm, overseeing the completion of the first math and science magnet school in Idaho history. Official groundbreaking was July 2006, allowing less than a year to complete the project. The $12.2-million school project is slated to be finished in early July of this year, and according to CM Company's Bruce Steinwinter (project superintendent), it is on target to be completed on time.
So far, the project has required 400,000 board feet of dimensional lumber, 8,000 pieces of panel products, $15,000 in Simpson Hardware, and 2,200 cubic yards of concrete. On most days, 30 to 40 tradesmen are at work on the site. All material purchase orders and contracts are with local companies with the exception of the bleachers and cafeteria tables, which are from a supplier in Salt Lake City; the stage curtain is from a supplier in Portland; and the cabinets are from a company in Seattle. A variety of fork lifts has served as the primary large equipment vehicle used on the job.
Because facilities are at or near capacity due to growing population along with aging facilities, school construction is a booming business for many in the construction industry.
According to the School Planning & Managements' 2007 School Construction Report (compiled by D&B Market Data), school construction in 2006 totaled just more than $20 billion. During the present century, school districts have completed construction projects across the nation totaling more than $145 billion. This is in addition to the projects necessitated to return existing school facilities to a good overall condition and bring them into compliance with federal mandates.
As with most public school projects, the Meridian School District routinely puts out "requests for qualifications" (RFQs) to construction management companies following bond elections. CM Company is one of three construction managers used by the Meridian School District. Generally referred to as "multiple prime contract," projects are bid direct to the contractors, and their contracts are negotiated directly with the school district.
Wendel Bigham, supervisor of facilities and construction for the Meridian School District, noted that multi-prime partners are awarded based on qualifications.
"We select construction management companies based on a number of important criteria," said Bigham. "They must have extensive school construction experience, good references, and we like to do business (if possible) with local companies. Because we build new schools following an architectural prototype that we have used for numerous years, the architects stay fairly consistent because of copyright issues."
The practice of school districts utilizing standard prototypes — basically, building the same school over and over again — is fairly standard in the school construction industry. The Galileo project is no exception, based on the district's elementary school prototype and revised to accommodate a junior high population.
"The Meridian School District has been using a modified version of the same elementary school for the past 20 years," said Amber Van Ocker, project architect and partner of LKV Architects. "At first glance, this would appear to be your typical brick, pitched-roof school project. But we revised the plans to allow for both elementary and junior high-aged children to thrive in the same building. Basically, it was the district's elementary prototype enlarged, and includes an extra wing for the older kids."
LKV Architects, based in Boise, specializes in school projects — lower and higher education facilities. Van Ocker noted that 70 percent of the firm's overall business is school-related, with current projects spanning across the state of Idaho.
The Galileo School will feature high-tech facilities, including cutting-edge science labs, a larger-than-usual number of computer stations, classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards, expanded cafeteria, gymnasium and athletic facilities, cable antennas for remote learning, and a library that will suit the needs of the diverse age of the students attending the school.
"We modified the plans to ensure the older kids felt like they had a learning facility of their own, but also included a playground with all of the standard amenities for the grade school children," said Van Ocker. "It's unlike any other public school facility in the state due to the fact that it will serve K through 8th grades."
When asked about the general business of school design and whether it was mundane compared to other commercial projects due to the use of prototypes, Van Ocker pointed out how safety issues have been a "hot topic" with regard to school construction in recent years. She went on to say how important safety is in the school environment, citing the recent shooting incident on the campus of Virginia Tech University — the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
"Safety in education has become extremely complicated these days," said Van Ocker. "Most prototype school designs in the past included exterior doors in each classroom, for example. Now access points are limited, surveillance equipment is standard — every effort is made to keep our kids safe while they are attending school."
For the most part, the Galileo project has stayed on course in terms of budget and schedule. Project Manager Jackie Phelps of CM Company said that the only major construction delay was incurred at the onset of the project due to the extreme Idaho clay soil conditions, unexpectedly high ground water levels and an artesian well discovered on the property. The water in an artesian well flows from an aquifer, which is a layer of very porous rock or sediment, usually sandstone, capable of holding and transmitting large quantities of water.
"We knew we might encounter the well, but were hoping it was on the adjacent property," said Phelps. "The EPA has strict regulations with regard to how you can abandon it, so we called in a licensed well contractor (Stephens and Sons) to fill it with bentonite and determine if it was leaking or not. Dealing with the well only took about a week and half, time we were able to recoup as the project progressed."
The civil plans initially included one seepage bed and one swale. Now, there are two enlarged seepage beds (compared to the original plans) that were modified by lining the bottom with a Firestone PondGard EPDM Geomembrane and Contech geotextile fabric. The EPDM liner forces water to drain through the sides of the seepage bed.
"We also had to re-grade the play field to eliminate potential low spots," said Phelps. "The clay and ground water conditions didn't allow water to percolate into the ground at as high of a rate as might be required, so the area was re-graded to direct the water to the seepage beds and also utilize some drain inlets that were part of the original design. It was important to ensure there were no low spots, in order to avoid problems that could be caused by standing water."
The first big classroom was "dried-in" on Nov. 26, allowing the start of interior work and keeping trades working. The building is so big that it was broken into areas and "dried-in" subsequently within about a week of each other. This also allowed mechanical work to begin as early as possible — placing the mechanical equipment and electrical in the mezzanine.
"Many trades are involved in getting the mechanical up and running," said Phelps. "It takes a month alone to clean and test the HVAC system prior to starting it up. This process is critical and must be done correctly."
Getting paved in the fall was also a major milestone, said Phelps.
"We could see the condition of the site and what would happen if it went through the winter. We were originally scheduled to pave this spring, but when we saw the clay, we did it before winter. We would have spent thousands of dollars removing wet, saturated materials."
The exterior of the first wing of the school was completed by the first week of January. The masonry veneer installation continued around the remainder of the building and was done by the end of February. Brick veneer and structural giant brick was used for the exterior finish.
At the time of publication, landscaping, preparation to start up the mechanical equipment and interior finish work — cabinetry, paint and carpet — were on the schedule. The biggest classroom wing was near completely finished.
Galileo would be proud.