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GCCISD Facilities Team To Complete Bond Ahead Of Schedule And Under Budget
Facilities Department employees oversee construction job

Photo by Carrie Pryor-Newman

GCCISD Facilities Team To Complete Bond Ahead Of Schedule And Under Budget

By: Beth Dombrowa

When the bell rang for the first day of school in 2014, about 2,100 elementary students excitedly walked into brand-new campuses that smelled of fresh paint. Those three elementary schools were part of the bond voters approved in 2013, paving the way for much-needed new facilities, technology upgrades, security enhancements and infrastructure projects throughout the district. But the Facilities Planning and Construction Department didn’t take much time to celebrate the completion of those campuses; the seven-member team had multiple other projects to oversee.

The Facilities Planning and Construction group at GCCISD is responsible for about $215 million of the $267 million voter-approved bond. The remainder was designated to and overseen by the District Technology Management Systems Department. Thanks to their careful oversight and long hours, approximately 90 percent of the bond will be completed a year early and within budget. Some of the projects are easily recognizable, such as the new campuses, the Transportation Center that will be complete in June, and the fencing and security vestibules that provide additional safety and security for students. Other projects aren’t as visible, but are equally as important.

“Although you can see that we have beautiful new schools and other projects in the works, much of what the department does is what you can’t see, but it’s all in the best interest of keeping our students in safe, secure learning environments,” said Dr. Anthony Price, deputy superintendent of GCCISD, who has oversight for the department. “There’s a lot of discussion among the group about the quality of construction and materials, and how they can best benefit kids.”

Two summers ago, crews worked around the clock to complete Maintenance, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) projects, such as replacing duct work and installing chillers – jobs that can’t be done while students are in school, but that take a great deal of time. In fact, many projects must work around school start and end times to avoid interruption to instruction as well as any impact on student and staff health and safety.

When the Board of Trustees approved the final design of the new Technology Center, a large bond project, on April 24, it marked the beginning of the end of the bond. The Technology Center will be the last of the large bond projects, with an anticipated completion of Spring 2018. Ironically, for the GCCISD Facilities department, although it’s the last large project to complete, it’s also one of the longest-running projects of this bond.

“The Technology Center project began being scoped in 2010, when materials were less expensive,” said FPC Director Brenda Garcia. “From the time the bond was passed in 2013 to now, it became a more expensive project. We’ve sent it out to bid three separate times as part of our commitment to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Only recently were we able to get a bid that we could realistically entertain.”

Garcia explained that cost savings opportunities are identified throughout the duration of various projects. For example, the department shaved almost 5 million dollars off the allocated budget for the three elementary schools. Cost savings allow the department to balance out projects, so that the entire bond remains in budget.

In addition to rising costs of materials and skilled labor, the Technology Center presents unique challenges that the FPC department hasn’t faced before, and likely won’t again.

“This is a very rare project,” Garcia said. “Because the building will hold servers and very specialized equipment, it was designed to have a higher wind resistance, including the window glazing (glass), in the event of a major storm, and also required designing reinforced construction and materials. It’s a major accomplishment that will benefit every single student and employee in the District, for many years to come.”

Currently, the Transportation Center and a new cafeteria at Sterling are under construction, as is the repurpose of the Kilgore Center, which will become the district’s brand new career and technical high school, Stuart Career Tech High School, in the Fall of 2017. Most recently, the new wing at Goose Creek Memorial High School was completed, providing new CTE and core classroom space. Very soon, work will begin on the Agriscience Center, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Project Number Four, Facility Condition Assessment Project, and the Technology Center. These, and many other projects, are overseen by a project manager and project inspectors within the Facilities Planning and Construction Department, with the assistance of program managers from Lockwood Andrews & Newnam, the district’s contracted program management company. A volunteer Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee (CBAC) meets monthly to review project status updates and finances, and to make recommendations for changes or to endorse projects before they go the Board of Trustees for final approval.

Working late into the night and during summer when campuses are empty can lead to some humorous stories. Senior Project Inspector, Ray Brown, fielded concerns from a contractor working on the MEP project at Lee High School. The contractor reported that he saw a ghostly apparition beckoning from the end of a hallway – twice. For some reason, the contractor approached and although he saw no one there, he described smelling cigarette smoke. The contractor remained spooked, convinced that Lee is haunted, for the remainder of the project.

Among the questions most frequently asked, Garcia said, is “Why does it take so long to complete a project?”

As anyone who has worked in construction knows, weather delays can play a big part in project delays, although the Facilities department builds days into their project schedule in anticipation of some bad weather. The procurement process, bid packets and bid reviews, and contract negotiations can take several months. Coordinating schedules with contractors, including getting the right trades people on the project at the right time, can also present challenges, particularly in the Baytown area where the construction market is hot. Work on a project for the Facilities team begins long before a bulldozer arrives on site.

Of course, all projects have to be planned to minimize any possible disruption to students and learning, which means projects may have to get pushed back. Summer is not a time for vacations for FPC? employees, who are often on a race against the clock to get work completed before students and staff return to campus. And many components of a project have to be done at odd hours, such as concrete pours.

As GCCISD continues to grow – 2,000 students have entered the district since voters approved the bond in 2013 – the district will continue to have to look at its facilities and the space it has available for a continuing influx of school-age children. But it’s not just about new schools or buildings: together with the Maintenance Department, FPC keeps an eye on all of the district’s assets to ensure they’re safe, in good repair and in the best condition to service students.


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