By Jason Schneider
Director of Operations
U.S. Engineering Construction
You read that right. Our Rocky Mountain Construction and Service teams have spent the summer working in over 190 school buildings, preparing for whatever school will look like for students, teachers and staff this fall.
It’s safe to say this summer’s working conditions haven’t been the easiest, but amid restrictions, national supply chain delays and necessary safety precautions, our teams found creative ways to get the job done.
We performed renovations, maintenance, repairs and new construction projects through design-build, design-bid-build and mechanical-prime delivery methods, all while helping these school districts navigate air quality concerns and other COVID-19 preparedness projects.
How? We assembled a project management and operations team that works like a well-oiled machine. Our people made completing this volume of work possible by embracing adaptability and fostering relationships. Those two keys, being open to change and really knowing your teams and customers, allow for successful project management, especially when facing a heavy workload and unforeseen challenges. Here’s how to make it work.
In the construction and service industries, you always expect changes, whether to schedule, manpower or supply. But particularly during times that seem unstable, it’s crucial to go into a project knowing that you will experience something you may not have planned. Key to overcoming that challenge is agility, or quickly adapting to that change. When we embrace that mindset, we save time, work more efficiently and move on to the next project.
In a “normal” summer’s work in schools, U.S. Engineering Construction and Service teams replace antiquated pieces of equipment, change filters and fine-tune mechanical systems. We make classrooms more comfortable, and we save school districts money on utilities with more efficient systems.
But this summer, when schools turned to us to address Coronavirus concerns, such as air quality, we adapted to incorporate processes recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE). We adapted to customer plans when we partnered with Denver Public Schools on the “DPS School Readiness Project,” which included upgrading nurse stations, replacing water fountains with bottle fillers to limit contact, installing instantaneous hot water heaters, performing ventilation upgrades to maximize the intake air from outside and increase filtration levels, and more.
With the pandemic came new jobsite safety measures. Our field crews have been tasked with performing essential work while maintaining a safe working environment – something that has taken on a new meaning in recent months. We’ve sometimes sent only one team member to a school site to limit exposure. And we’ve offered solutions to buildings that are completely closed, like accessing air handling units from the outside rather than using the inside of a building to access the roof.
In other cases, we’ve needed to adjust schedules due to delays in production for some of our suppliers and restrictions on building access. To combat those issues, we diversified our supply chain and developed schedules with building managers that limited the amount of contact our team has with others in a building. We’ve worked around schedules that coincide with deep cleans. Time after time, we were willing to adapt, and when we did, the job was completed efficiently.
On K-12 projects, almost every building has unique requirements, depending on the equipment’s age, type, and design. The school projects we took on this summer included 190 buildings, 8 different school districts (two of which are the largest in Colorado) and 3 new high schools. Some of the buildings we serviced contained mechanical systems that are over 100 years old, while some had brand new systems.
In order to complete that high volume of varied work efficiently and effectively, we had to know our people. To manage projects that look so different from each other, you must know your individual team members’ strengths and where they will best serve according to the project. You must foster relationships internally to have the right people on the right jobs.
As they service school systems, our teams develop relationships with building managers and stakeholders, listening to their needs and requests. We pride ourselves on hearing our partners. After all, our teams are participating in design-build, mechanical prime and bid-build delivery methods. There is no one way to operate. At the end of the day, we’re not concerned with doing it our way, but instead bringing our clients’ vision to life using the method they prefer.
Finally, it’s personal. We build relationships with our team members and customers because we are all a part of the same community. Many of our own team members have children and family members who are directly affected by the work in these school facilities. We consider our partnerships with these clients a significant part of our legacy.
I’m proud of what we accomplished this summer. And I know that managing that amount of work was possible because our teams were adaptable, and they built relationships with each other and our customers. We’re grateful to the school districts who have trusted us with their facilities during this unpredictable season. To learn more about our K-12 work, click here.