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We PASSED a Referendum: Now What?

September 17, 2014 by Jody Andres AIA LEED AP; Sam Statz LEED AP in School Business Affairs

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 School Business Affairs magazine and is reprinted with permission of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). The text herein does not necessarily represent the views or policies of ASBO International, and use of this imprint does not imply any endorsement or recognition by ASBO International and its officers or affiliates.

Follow these steps to getting your facility project going after your referendum has passed.

"I've been so focused on the referendum that I didn't stop to think about what we need to do if it passes." That sentiment is common after a district has completed the marathon process of getting a referendum passed.

Here are 9 steps that will help you move from the referendum to a successful finished product.

1. Hire Professionals...Early

If you've not sought out and contracted with planning, design, and construction professionals in the process of getting your referendum passed, now is the time. You will likely need to hire an architect, engineer, planner, and construction manager. Ensure that they not only have the credentials and experience but also fit well with your organization.

School districts typically follow a proposal-based selection process; however, some states allow for a negotiated process for selecting professional services. The decision regarding selection of professional architectural or engineering services is pivotal because of the many aspects of your project that can be affected. The look and feel of the campus, the accuracy of plans, site selection, and countless other factors hinge on the decision of those professionals.

By engaging with professional service providers early in the process, school districts can benefit from improved collaboration, more cohesive communication, and a better understanding of construction schedules and cost.

School districts can elect to hire one, some, or all of the professional services directly. Typically, school districts hire an architect who provides the services of engineers or planners in-house or as consultants. Construction managers and contractors may be part of the initial project team, but they are traditionally hired directly by the owner after a bidding process.

Establishing an integrated professional project team increases the prospect of discovering viable, sustainable opportunities--giving school districts more for their money.

2. Organize a Project Oversight Team

A project oversight team typically includes administrative and facility staff, but it may also include a school board representative. Ultimately, the team has owner's authority on the project, which ensures that school personnel and the design, planning, and construction professionals know whom they can turn to for answers.

3. Organize a Design Steering Committee

A design steering committee typically represents the entire community and can include 100 or more members. To get a wide breadth of views and representation from the key constituencies, include educators, staff, students, and parents, as well as representatives from business, non-profit, and civic groups.

To be most effective, the committee should appoint task forces to address specific design items, such as an auditorium, community room, senior citizen access to the school, preservation of historic elements from a previous school, and regional culture elements.

4. Gather Design Ideas

Touring other schools, preferably with the architect, and talking with teachers and staff can be helpful to the team when considering design ideas. Although some features may look great, discussions with teachers and staff during your visits to facilities can help you learn their likes and dislikes, what works, what does not work, and the challenges they face with the facility design.

5. Reach Out to Your Community

Effective communication with the school community must be continuous during the planning process. A variety of effective methods to promote communication and outreach early in the process can be tailored to a project's specific needs. Some common strategies include visioning sessions, public forums, listening sessions, focus groups, electronic surveys, round-table discussions, charettes, and interviews.

Successful educational facilities are developed in conjunction with educators and with their support, so their participation is vital. In addition, the planning, design, and construction process is a great opportunity to engage students in a profound way. Engaging students in the design process helps them connect what they are learning to real life. Additionally, students offer a unique perspective on everyday life in a school.

Another key subgroup to engage is parents. Historically, they are the most underused resource in the planning process of an educational facility. Engaged parents have a significant effect on students' academic achievement, behavior, and attitudes, and their opinions should be welcomed!

The school board's attention to the planning process is critical. Board workshops and updates are helpful in considering the implications of the steering committee's decisions. School board members and school administrators should be effective disseminators of information and the primary stewards of the collective vision.

Planning solutions that benefit all demographics and ages increase the chances of a successful project. By sheer numbers, senior citizens have an influence on public policy and expenditures, and they represent a large percentage of the population in many communities. Good schools and good businesses are symbiotic, and business professionals offer a valuable real-world perspective.

Partnerships between organizations, government, and schools foster connections that increase institutional support at many levels. Early cooperation helps eliminate regulatory roadblocks that may surface later in the process.

6. Develop Understanding and a Collective Vision

The design steering committee and the design team should collect, review, and prioritize all of the ideas and information to allow the project to move into the design phases. Reviewing the results of the community outreach, curriculum goals, educational standards, and future trends provides the information needed to charge forward. That review is the electrifying process to determine what the district could be if focus were placed strategically on the future. Drawing on the future focus and shared beliefs, and the identified collective vision, this step will provide the "North Star" for the project.

7. Give the Design Vision Form

After establishing a vision for the project, the design team proceeds into the design process. The involvement of the design steering committee and all of the stakeholders is greatest at the beginning of the design, and it gradually diminishes as the design is developed and documented.

During the schematic design phase, the architect will commonly present the concepts using drawings or other media to provide the sense of design, scale, spatial relationships, and more for the education leaders to consider. This phase is followed by the design development phase when a greater level of specificity begins to take place. Material types, location of doors and windows, and more are presented based on the desires of the design steering committee. At the conclusion of this phase, a formal presentation is typical, with the aim of approval.

During the construction documentation phase, the architect provides an even greater level of detail and includes the needed specifications for construction materials and building details. Once approved, the bidding of the project can take place. The school district, through the project oversight team, should be periodically updated and should review project progress.

8. Move on to Construction Bidding and Award

The format for construction bidding and award will vary, depending on the chosen method of delivery and management of the school construction.

The design-bid-build method has three primary players: the owner (the school district), the architect, and the contractor. With this model, there are two separate contracts: one is between the owner and designer, and the other is between the owner and contractor. The contractor is selected according to the low bid or the best value.

The design-build approach involves two primary parties: the owner and the design-build entity. There is one contract between the school and either the contractor or the architect--who is responsible for both design and construction.

Another method is called construction management at-risk, or CM at-risk. With this approach, a construction manager takes on the risk of building a project.

Another method that is increasingly in demand is integrated project delivery. This process incorporates sustainability from concept through completion, providing a single source of responsibility to jettison finger-pointing, escalate accountability, and streamline the building process. Additionally, this strategy enhances the interaction between the school personnel, project stakeholders, planners, architects, and construction managers during the course of the project.

The constant and consistent relationship within the project team establishes continuity and improved communication. This approach is critical for achieving the highest level of sustainability available within the client's budget. At the onset, it encourages all involved parties to look, with the greatest peripheral vision, for environmentally and financially responsible solutions.

9. Coming Out of the Ground

During the construction process, it is important to include key members of the school district who will participate and make timely decisions for the benefit of the district. The following areas of interest for such decisions might be included:

  • Overall adherence to the school district's original vision;
  • Safety of students, staff, or the public who are in or around the construction site for school functions;
  • Coordination of owner-purchased items or furnishings;
  • Coordination of utility interruptions or other construction matters affecting the operation of the school district;
  • Attendance at construction progress meetings;
  • Participation in final walk-throughs and approvals;
  • Attendance at and coordination of maintenance and equipment training; and
  • Coordination of final move-in.

In addition, that heightened engagement can facilitate the provision of periodic updates to the school board and community during construction, can identify and celebrate milestones of progress, and can make available timely tours to key parties.

Now Celebrate!

Finally, don't forget to celebrate. To pass a referendum and then execute a project is a Herculean feat, especially while educating students and leading faculty and staff. Take the time to celebrate not only the new facility and corresponding programs but also the process, new relationships, collaborations, obstacles that were overcome, and any new partnerships that were formed.


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