Extreme School Remodeling

According to the National Clearinghouse for Education Facilities and numerous other studies, research has proven that there is a direct correlation between school environments and academic outcome. Schools that are comfortable, clean, safe, and functional provide a multitude of benefits: students make better grades, attendance rates rise, operating costs are reduced, and job satisfaction among teachers and staff increases.

That’s the cornerstone and the primary reason we’re so proud of the multischool modernization program recently completed at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, CA.

Today, the 21,700 students in the NMUSD are learning and thriving in 27 schools that are indeed cleaner, more comfortable, and offer improved functionality. As a result of this forward-thinking school facilities improvement program, we believe those children will be better, brighter, and more secure.

The $193-Mn program was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Financed by a local bond measure and state matching funds, the school renovations effectively brought the district’s aging schools — some built more than 70 years ago — into the 21st century.

Notable improvements students now enjoy as a result of the modernization program include:

- upgraded computer technology with Internet access;
- redesigned science departments with modernized laboratory space and equipment to support curriculum;
- new flooring, cabinetry, whiteboards and other interior improvements;
- fresh interior and exterior paint;
- improved parking lots with better vehicular and pedestrian circulation;
- upgraded interior and exterior lighting;
- high-quality natural light and ventilation from new windows;
- improved accessibility for the disabled;
- remodeled bathrooms; and
- upgraded libraries, media centers, and teacher support spaces.

There are plenty of behind-the-scenes improvements that students don’t see, yet they provide improved and more functional environments. These include:
- upgraded power service for computers;
- underground utility and infrastructure upgrades;
- new intercom and fire-life safety systems;
- new and shored truss studs with 20 or 16 gauge “C” studs to support whiteboards, casework, toilet partitions, and plumbing fixtures;
- new top and bottom plates, studs, and posts extended to roof framing; and
- new insulation.

All of these improvements brought new color, life, and improved functionality to the facilities while maintaining the look and overall design integrity of the existing schools.

How did that happen? Let us explain.

Coordination 101
Renovating just one school can seem daunting, but multiply that by 27 and you know you have a complex undertaking. Now, factor in all the varied groups and their concerns: architects, general contractors, subcontractors, consultants, government agencies, a citizen’s oversight group, budget and scheduling committees, school site committees, and several parent groups, and you have a real challenge.

The key word here is coordination. We credit what we call single-source programming with a construction management delivery method not only to coordinate the work, but also to harmonize or collaborate with all these constituents. These essential tools for project delivery formed the foundation for compatibility on several fronts — for systems, for processes, and for people, ultimately bringing this mammoth program to a successful close on time and within budget.

In essence, this single-source delivery method served as a large splash of oil to make a complex program run smoothly. Processes didn’t overlap; efforts were not duplicated; sensible systems prevented the need for one company to conform to another’s procedures; communication came from one place; and, all players clearly understood their roles, responsibilities, and perhaps most importantly, their accountabilities.

As a part of the delivery method, McCarthy Building Cos. served as the program manager and essentially became an extension of the district’s facility department. The firm provided preconstruction services, design management, labor compliance, bidding, public communications, scheduling, and construction management.

HMC was selected by NMUSD, the board of education, the Measure A Citizens’ Oversight Committee, and McCarthy to provide architectural and interior design services for two high schools and three elementary schools in the program. As an instrumental part of the program team, HMC and four other architects collaborated with NMUSD and McCarthy to accommodate the varied scopes and budgets at each school.

Despite the many different constituents and the number of unique technical requirements at the schools, single-source programming coupled with the construction management delivery model yielded efficiency, cost effectiveness, and overall team and project success.

Pop Quiz!
Remember pop quizzes in school, those unexpected little surprises the teachers would pull out of their hats (especially when you hadn’t read the assignment)? Well, we had our share of those unwelcome, yet somewhat anticipated disturbances during this program.

As with most renovation work, no matter how well you plan and the wealth of experience you possess, one never knows what surprises lurk until you look under the proverbial rock. Needless to say, we unearthed quite a few rock-hard challenges during this program.

The schools were old. Therefore, the as-built drawings were of little help and most failed to accurately note the correct framework and other infrastructure hidden within the walls or underground. For example, there was a significant amount of dry rot and termite damage found as the windows or parts of walls were removed. “In addition, over the years, a number of utilities had been installed without proper identification of location and usage. This was probably one of the more “difficult” challenges we repeatedly encountered.”

HMC reviewed the old as-built drawings and conducted site inspections of existing conditions to learn more about the accuracies and inaccuracies before completing the base drawings for the builders. In many instances, walls, plumbing, and other visible building components were no longer consistent with the as-built drawings, so the site inspections proved invaluable.

As was expected, further inaccuracies were uncovered during construction, which required HMC and its structural and MEP consultants to make further plan changes. These changes then required additional Division of State Architect (DSA) approval due to the structural implications resulting from the changes. Therefore, it was imperative to maintain communication among all parties to move the process along as quickly as possible. In addition to regular computer and telephone correspondence, weekly team meetings were held on site with HMC, McCarthy, the general contractor, and any subcontractors involved in the decision at hand.

McCarthy also worked with the contractors to install temporary systems, verify utilities, and add shut-off valves and power distribution panels, none of which were in the original architectural drawings but had to be executed so the school could function without interruption during the school year. 

Scheduling Lessons
As painful as some of those unexpected “pop quizzes” were, we found a good deal of relief in the finer points of scheduling.

We prepared schedules in four phases between March 2003 and January 2007 prioritizing the work based on two goals:

  1. to minimize the impact on the education delivery process (students missed no classes during the entire project), and
  2. to tackle schools in the worst shape first.


We evaluated school condition based on established guidelines such as health and safety, disabled access compliance, building shell integrity, classroom interior renovations, and renovation in support of educational program and athletic/co-curricular support  facilities.

We also considered cost efficiencies by focusing on construction logistics, purchasing, contracting strategy, and timing of government approvals. (Incidentally, the scheduling allowed us to get a 20-percent increase in the original matching funds to cover inflation costs by working efficiently with several state agencies.)

Good Classmates
School was always much more enjoyable when you had a few classmates with whom you were compatible. On the NMUSD project, the team selection process was extremely important and included specific criteria.

For example, the project architects were selected based on: the firm’s organization and background, experience of the firm’s employees slated to work on the projects, similar past work experience, principal involvement; approach to design and philosophy, past project performance, acceptance of a performance based fee structure, commitment to quality and construction administration, and capacity to meet specific deadlines. Also important was their professional relationship with the DSA and local government building departments. 

Each architect had to identify the most important design considerations and develop solutions that fit within the schedules and budgets. Every school was unique and offered its own set of design challenges to meet the program priorities and expectations. However, the most significant design considerations included incorporating architecture that fit within the framework of the existing structure and recognizing substandard or outdated systems and materials.

For example, new energy-efficient window systems and roof and wall insulation were added into the older structures.  Electrical backbones were also incorporated to support technology upgrades for computers and peripherals. 

The architect’s expertise in a school environment, their relationship with the structural and MEP consultants, and overall collaboration with the entire team proved invaluable to the success of this program.

Project Report Card

Although only those involved in the process really knew that enormous amounts of planning, coordination, and technical expertise behind everything, the students in the NMUSD marveled at plenty in their “new and improved” schools as renovations were completed.

Proudly, students of today and tomorrow will reap the rewards as a result of these academic facility improvements and the delivery process that made the building program such a success. For many years to come, these students will enjoy a school experience that will undoubtedly lead to brighter futures, and hopefully make a true difference in their lives.

Bill Catron, NCARB, is an associate with HMC Architects in Irvine, CA. Bonnie Martin is a project director with McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. in Newport Beach, CA