Jon O'Brien

USGBC Central Pennsylvania learned best practices from the construction manager of a project seeking to build to LEED standards.

On August 15, the Keystone Contractors Association partnered with USGBC Central Pennsylvania to provide the construction industry with a tour of the State College High School project. Consisting of two buildings and around 660,000 square feet of renovated and new construction, the project is estimated to come in around $140 million.

History of the project

The event began with a presentation by Ed Poprik, State College School District; Jeff Straub, Crabtree Rohrbaugh Architects; and Tim Jones, senior project manager for Massaro Construction Management Services. Poprik, the project's owner, kicked off the presentation with a history of the school’s capital management. He discussed past projects of the district, the aged high school buildings and passage of the famous referendum vote that allowed the massive project to proceed.

Next, the project’s architect of record spoke. Straub discussed the referendum and his firm’s role in assisting the district in helping the community understand the need for the project and then to engage them in the process. He highlighted some of the sustainable features on the project and explained the LEED certification process. The school has set the goal of achieving at least LEED Silver, and with that in mind, his firm designed to the Gold level to ensure they at minimum reach Silver if some points are not achieved. The project currently appears on pace to receive Gold.

The final portion of the presentation was given by the construction manager, Tim Jones. Prior to the State College High School work, Massaro was the CM at Penn State University (PSU) on a multi-year project in the Henderson Health and Human Development Building (HHD). This award-winning HHD project consisted of 105,505 square feet of new construction and 39,147 square feet of renovation construction. The total project cost was a little over $43 million.

Timing of the PSU and State College High School projects were ideal for Jones to relocate from southwestern Pennsylvania to the State College area. Additionally, the experience of two active educational buildings being constructed with Mr. Jones serving as the project manager was an excellent opportunity for the industry to hear his lessons learned concerning project phasing.

Construction phasing takeaways

For numerous reasons, a construction project may have to be broken down into smaller, more manageable segments, or "phases." Some projects are phased due to financing, and a phase may be completed as money is received from the lender. Another popular reason for phasing is to accommodate an owner/user group that still needs to function while the project is under construction. The latter reason was the case for the State College projects.

A college or high school cannot simply close its campus for a few years to complete a large construction project. When phasing is needed, the general contractor/construction manager takes the lead, and in the case of both the PSU HHD and State College High School projects, Jones was the point person from the CM firm.

Here are some lessons learned from these two phased projects that Jones shared with the attendees at the tour:

1) Designate a user group point of contact.

A construction project, regardless of size, can be a challenge in terms of coordinating all the various trade contractors, but the owner needs to be included in the project. This challenge intensifies in a phased project because each phase is a unique project in itself. In an educational setting, there may be dozens of people who are considered the owner/client, from professors to administrative staffers to students.

To effectively provide input, it helps tremendously if there is one point of contact to speak on behalf of the user group. This one contact and the CM will communicate constantly for the duration of the project. Without one contact, the CM could find themselves in a position to receive contradicting input of what the users need.

2) Create a consistent meeting cycle.

A meeting schedule should be created and respected by project stakeholders. Constant communication is crucial on a phased construction project on an educational campus so the construction team  understands what needs to happen to respect campus activities.

3) Do space loss planning.

The project team doesn't live in the spaces that they are trying to relocate or revise. Input from the user group is critical, but be mindful that this can be a challenge. Approaching a construction project is stressful for the users, because they often haven't been through a significant project that affects their day-to-day responsibilities.

One lesson learned was that some of the existing building compression was too much for the users to work with. Partway through the construction phase, the project needed to add some supplementary temporary trailer space to help accommodate. Owners need to carry contingency for phasing in the same way they carry contingency for construction challenges.

4) Coordinate commissioning and FFE.

Building commissioning activities, as well as furniture, fixtures and equipment installation, should be completed before handing a phased portion of the project over to the user group. As you can imagine, on a phased project different portions of the same project will reach milestones at different times. These milestones must be communicated and tracked so that the project will be ready for the commissioning and FFE stages. A smooth, coordinated process allows the user group to get into the completed spaces when expected.

On a phased project, the CM will be responsible for creating the schedule for moving the user group around to allow for spaces to be renovated. If a space is completed, but move-in is not yet allowed, it could have negative ramifications for other phases of the project and could potentially alter campus school schedules. 

5) Don’t underestimate a temporary office location.

As mentioned, the user group must continue operating while the project is ongoing. Educational spaces may be under construction and unable to serve the school, but setting up temporary locations can be a viable solution to keep the school operating. Depending on the project, setting up temporary locations can be the solution to keep a school operating.

6) Summer is too short.

A common statement heard on a school construction project is: “Don’t worry about that now, we’ll do it over summer break.” These summer activities can add up if you don’t keep a handle on this approach. The school could find itself behind schedule and delay the final move-in date if too much work is transferred to summer.

USGBC Central Pennsylvania learned a great deal from the presentation, and the overall message that came across for a successful phased project is that communication is extremely important. Following the presentation, attendees were given an in-depth walking tour of the State College High School construction project. 

See photos from the tour