By Jennifer Wohlleb
As far as boot camps go, it was pretty luxurious – a beautiful facility, delicious food and no one was yelled at.
Nearly 40 school board members attended a July facilities boot camp at the newly constructed George Rogers Clark High School in Clark County, aimed at helping them better understand and manage projects in their own districts. The event, sponsored by project architect RossTarrant, was a preconference session at this year’s KSBA Summer Leadership Institute.
PHOTO: Natural light permeates the media center at George Rogers Clark High School. The center and other parts of the new school open up to a spacious courtyard with walkways and green spaces.
Board members toured the 256,477 square foot facility that was begun in 2008 and will open this month, and attended a workshop that took them through the project from inception as part of the local facilities planning process to completion.
Although Perry County just finished building a new school, board member Jerry Stacy said seeing Clark County’s gave him ideas to take back to his district.
“We’re also in the process of buying property to build two more elementary schools and I just wanted to get some ideas from this, maybe see some things we could incorporate in the new schools,” he said.
Ron Murrell, lead architect on the Clark County school, outlined the initial steps for a building project to tour attendees. Once the school board approves the district’s facilities plan and the Kentucky Department of Education signs off on it, the district can then start putting it into action, he said.
If a new building tops the list, one of the first actions a board needs to take is hiring an architect, Murrell said. KDE can provide guidance or boards can advertise for a request for proposals. From there, the architect helps guide board members and the district through the process.
Site selection is an early step, and one that determines a number of the latter steps.
“We looked at a lot of properties here in Clark County, the reason being that there are a lot of parameters you’re looking for to satisfy a site selection document that you’re preparing for the department of education,” Murrell said. “You need a boundary survey, are there adequate utilities for the site, what type of rock formations are there – we do a preliminary geodeck investigation – you want to make sure you own the property fee simple. We had one district that went pretty far down the road on a piece of property only to discover the coal rights had been leased, so they had to back away from that property because they didn’t have clear rights.”
Site development costs are an important consideration as well as the adequacy of physical access, which is determined by the state Transportation Cabinet.
“OK, so you’ve got an architect, you’re looking at properties, now programming,” Murrell said. “This is one of those critical things … It’s about your culture and what you want. You ought to be able to have time to get with staff, to get with community leaders – we’ve involved students in the process here – to get that input to put together the programming.”
He said the end result of that programming will be a list of spaces.
“It sounds pretty cookie cutter, but believe me it’s not,” Murrell said. “It’s how many classrooms we need to serve these programs, these specialty classrooms, support spaces in the media center, auditorium, the kitchen, cafeteria (in order) to have that in the size, the square footage, making sure it meets what the department of education has as a guideline.”
The next step is creating the schematic design, which takes all of the decisions to date and begins drawing out the actual facility, including where on the site the building will be, the layout of various spaces and the exterior design.
“The board will be the one to approve the schematic design that will be sent to the department of education for its approval,” Murrell said.
Design development is the next phase, which RossTarrant architect Leonard Bowers said is not as much fun as the previous steps but is a critical one for board member involvement.
“In this phase, we need to examine and explore a wide variety of different options so we can take those schematic design concepts and figure out how we’re going to make them work based on your particular needs, preferences and, of course, your budget,” he said. “Some of the decisions that need to be talked about and decided on include what do we want to look at from the green/sustainability standpoint … maybe you need to think about what goals you want to set as far as your energy use for that particular facility.”
Other decisions made during this phase include hardware, lighting, heating and cooling systems, security, technology, room layout and finishes, playground equipment, even restroom accessories.
It takes lots of time for the board to sort through the options presented by their architect, Bowers said.
“What we have found that works really great, depending on the complexity and size of your project, is the board of education sets up work sessions that are dedicated strictly to building construction issues. This really allows board members to focus on building topics that need decisions but don’t necessarily need a formal vote. As a result, these kinds of items don’t need to take a lot of time during regular board meetings.”
He said this is also the time for the board to consider any alternates it may want to add to the project.
Once those decisions are made, the district can begin bidding the construction phase of the project.
Fulton Independent board member Bill Robertson said he attended the session because his district’s school building is more than 40 years old, which means a new facility sometime in the future is not out of the question.
“They really put an emphasis on academics, which really impressed me,” he said. Clark County put off building a new competition gym in favor of using the one at the old high school.
Robertson said he found some of the energy-efficiency aspects of the building interesting, particularly the green roof, the gutter systems and even the outside window shades that filter direct sunlight. “They really tied everything together,” he said.