Published on May 9th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine0
Utah’s booming population is spurring construction in all sectors, especially the K-12 market.
Last year, Utah topped the charts as the nation’s fastest growing state. “Utah’s ascendency in 2016 was only partially fueled by migration, the typical driver of population growth for the rest of the country. The lion’s share of growth came from something Utahans have always been good at, and the rest of America, rather bad: They’re making more babies,” reported The Atlantic in December 2016.
As the state’s youngest demographic continues to grow, there is no sign of slowing in Utah’s K-12 construction market. Part of this growth is manifest in a robust housing market. “Even though [home value] appreciation is expected to slow in 2017, according to analysts’, factors such as first-time millennial home buyers will keep Utah’s housing market strong and the need for K-12 educational facilities at a premium. This continuing trend will drive the K-12 educational construction market well into 2020 and beyond,” said Jeff Haderlie, Marketing Director for Orem based Westland Construction. “More and more young families are choosing to stay here, move here, and start a family full of future K-12 students.”
“Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the country, so there is a continuing demand for new schools,” said Jeanne Jackson, Principal at VCBO Architecture. “Utah is ahead of the curve in this aspect. I have heard from colleagues in Arizona and New Mexico that they still haven’t recovered [from the recession].”
“Just about every school district is growing,” said Kendall Smith, Project Executive at Hughes General Contractors in North Salt Lake. “I continue seeing them bond to pay for the work,”
Alpine School District, the state’s largest district with 87 schools, is one such example. The district passed a $387 million bond last November. “By 2021, we’ll have nine new schools,” said David Stephenson, Administrator of Public Relations. “This is by far the biggest bond we’ve ever gone out for and it had the highest percentage of voter approval.”
Along with Alpine, Jordan passed a bond for $245 million last year which will include the construction of six new schools.
“The market is strong and probably strengthening,” said Brian Parker, Vice President at MHTN Architects in Salt Lake. “2016 broke the ice. I think in 2017 and 2018 you’ll see a lot more districts going out for bonding.”
“We are in the preparation stages for going out for another bond this November,” said Ken Crawford, Director of Athletics and Support Services at Ogden School District. “We have hired an architectural firm along with some research firms to help us develop our scope for the bond.”
Canyons School District is also considering a bond for 2017. “We passed a bond in 2010. It included 13 projects [two were new schools] and we’re on our last three,” explained Rick Conger, Director of Facilities Services. “There are a lot of people who want to continue the momentum and want to go out with a bond in November.” That said, the district may also elect to wait a few years.
To keep up with such a rapid pace of construction, many districts are using prototypes, especially for elementary schools.
“It’s a good move because it saves in design costs,” said Cristopher Hogan, President at Hogan & Associates Construction, Inc., Centerville. “The disadvantage is they all look the same. For every school—particularly the high schools—it’s important for them to be part of that community.”
Jackson agreed. “If you’re building in a field where there is nothing for context, there is nothing wrong with a prototype. When you’re talking about replacing a school, it has to be designed to fit the neighborhood.”
In cities where prototypes do make sense, each new school allows an opportunity for improvement and adjustment to ensure the new facility meets educators’ needs.
“If a district doesn’t update their prototype as teaching methodologies change, certain aspects of the prototype don’t function as well,” said Smith.
“The repeat plans are a great exercise in showing how you can be better,” said Parker.
“We do use prototypes, but we always review it before we ever build it again,” said Frank Pulley Jr., Director of Physical Facilities at Alpine School District. “The outside looks similar, but we’re constantly reviewing the classroom.”
Indeed, it is within school walls where innovation and new materials can best support learning.
“Some progressive districts are migrating from auto shops and wood shops to things like makers’ spaces where students are engaged in solving real world problems,” said Parker. “Across the board—elementary to high school—we’re seeing robotics labs integrated into the curriculum.”
In Davis School District, VCBO Architects is designing a composites lab for the new high school. “It is a different kind of a shop and a totally different design,” said Jackson. To create these labs—which prepare students for careers in the automotive and aerospace industries— VCBO toured several composites labs at schools in Seattle where Boeing was involved in the design.
Outside of the lab, simple changes to the classroom—such as a multitude of writeable surfaces—support a fluid learning environment.
At New Bridge Elementary in Ogden (see below sidebar), “there is writable space on all four sides of the classroom,” said Crawford.
“We’ve given moveable furniture and desks with whiteboard tops to a number of elementary schools in Davis,” said Jackson. “Everybody loves it.”
Even changes to flooring can improve a school’s aesthetic and functionality. “Luxury vinyl tile is really nice” said Hogan, in speaking of innovation in construction materials. “It’s a thicker tile that has a more durable base. It has texture on it, so it can look like a wood floor or a concrete floor. Polished concrete also continues to gain popularity. It’s very durable.”
Less visible construction materials are also improving schools’ performance, particularly in energy efficiency.
“We’re seeing more air barrier systems come out,” said Smith. “We’re trying to make the most energy efficient envelope that we can.”
“Spray foam has been a good solution to meet required energy ratings,” said Hogan. “It seals up the building so air is not leaking.”
“We’re always looking at the equipment and the lighting to be as conscious as we can be about the energy we’re consuming,” said Pulley.
Odyssey Elementary in Davis is at the forefront of energy efficient design and produces more energy than it needs through solar arrays. It is one of two buildings in Utah listed on the New Buildings Institute’s list of Zero Net Energy Emerging Buildings. (The other is Salt Lake City Public Safety Building, and Utah does not currently have any certified Zero Net Energy Buildings.)
“Davis School District has a huge commitment to using less energy because it saves their taxpayers money,” said Jackson.
Schools can also recognize cost savings in the earliest stages of construction. “Districts have come to understand that if you bid a school at the right time of year, you get a better deal,” said Jackson.
Those using a Construction Manager/ General Contractor (CM/GC) method also see cost savings. “On our last few large construction projects we have implemented CM/GC,” said Crawford. “Having an additional resource from the beginning has been useful to make good, accurate decisions that are the best use of time and financial resources.”
Early collaboration on scheduling and resource management are important for efficiency, and will be even more important when construction begins on the airport and new prison.
“Utah is one of the hottest economies in the nation for construction right now. This has its challenges as well,” said Hogan.
“Today, because of the bubble in the market, it isn’t just the school work that is out there,” said Parker. “The subcontractor market and the labor pool is still pretty stretched. We’re seeing shortages still,
in areas like masonry. In a year or so from now, I wonder and worry a little bit because when the airport and prison are in full swing—and I worry more about the prison—it will take a lot of subcontractors when that happens.”
“The construction market is very, very robust right now. If anything, I worry about if there are enough subcontractors to go around,” agreed Conger.
For now, at least, these worries are not playing out. “In the first two months of this year, there was at least $400-500 million worth of work that was bid [for schools],” said Jackson. “We were very worried
about labor shortage and bids have indicated we don’t have one at this time. We got very good bids from contractors and subcontractors. We were delighted, actually. Contractors and subcontractors like to work for school districts because they are good clients.”
Pulley agreed. “We’ve been very fortunate to work with people who specialize in education construction and building schools. We have a lot of established relationships with subcontractors to do other work in district, not just new schools.”
This symbiotic relationship between districts, designers, and contractors is especially effective in serving Utah’s robust K-12 market.
“Utah—with its unique culture—has a lot of kids, so there is always a demand for schools,” said Hogan. “There are good contractors that have been able to specialize in schools. There is a benefit there for quality, schedule and cost.”