Why Total Project Management?

When considering a new school construction project, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? For too many veteran school officials, their minds recall overruns, finger pointing, being in between designers and general contractors, and not receiving what they expected. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. Two highly sustainable public schools in Wisconsin were recently completed on time, at less than the average cost per square foot, while delighting the communities around them. Both were designed and constructed using a process called Total Project Management, and they each have many benefits to show for it.

Total Project Management (TPM) is an exclusive process that provides a single source of responsibility for all planning, architecture, and construction needs. This process increases accountability, eliminates the blame game, streamlines the scope of work, and improves communication and effectiveness. Created to establish a relationship between the planner, architect, and construction manager that assures continuity among committees, administrators, teachers, and other stakeholders, it builds in a system for developing greater rapport and reducing potential for communication problems.

Integration Is Key to Sustainability

Total Project Management is critical for maximizing sustainable (green) design and construction, and ensuring that school districts receive a facility that operates effectively and efficiently. With TPM, all involved parties can look, with the greatest peripheral vision, for environmentally friendly solutions from the very beginning. TPM emphasizes planning, communication, community consensus building, and brainstorming; involving the entire project team from the start; and encouraging the articulation of alternatives and new ideas throughout the project. Two recent school projects in Wisconsin highlight this process’ effectiveness.

Consider Northland Pines High School (NPHS) in Eagle River, WI. The Northland Pines School District set lofty environmental standards that they met at a sq.-ft. cost that was 23 percent below the national average cost of $150 per sq. ft. for high schools built in 2006. NPHS was the first LEED-certified K-12 school building in Wisconsin and the first (and highest-rated) LEED Gold-certified public high school in the United States.

River Crest Elementary opened in September of 2008 in Hudson, WI. Superintendent of Schools Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten and the Hudson board of education set their sights on being a role model of sustainable design and construction. “We originally envisioned River Crest as a teaching tool for our children, but that quickly expanded to include the staff, the school district, and our community as well,” says Bowen-Eggebraaten. “River Crest has become more than a sustainably-designed school for us. It moved us to the next level and extended our thinking beyond the school walls and grounds.”

The process utilized for both River Crest Elementary and Northland Pines High School is an elevated version of TPM, titled Total Project Management: Vision Taken to the Power of Green (TPMg). TPMg takes TPM to another level of value by integrating sustainability from concept through completion and ensuring that a building’s owner receives a fully green solution. TPMg looks for the “sweet spot” where careful consideration includes four critical components:
  • healthy productive environments,
  • budget-driven capital costs,
  • sustainable design and delivery, and
  • value added life-cycle cost savings.

When every decision considers balancing all four of these elements, a solution is reached that provides a positive impact on students, teachers, administrators, and the community at lower initial costs and long-term energy cost savings.

Collaboration is Key in Total Project Management
Here is how to implement TPM. First, a single contract is established with a firm that is able to handle all aspects of the project. A project team is assembled that includes the designers, architects, construction managers, expert consultants, and other specialists. This team engages with focus groups, including school board members, administrators, teachers, students, faculty and staff, and the broader community. A spirit of cooperation becomes evident early on in projects that use TPM due to the heightened communication that takes diverse ideas and melds them into a successful building project.

“I’m sure Total Project Management helped [our project] because you had the architects talking to the construction managers, the civil engineers, all of the subcontractors, and vendors were communicating to one source,” explains Bowen-Eggebraaten while discussing the process to create River Crest Elementary. “I think it worked beautifully and it was very well managed — the best management we’ve seen.”

Strategic decisions that will have an impact for the life of the building start immediately. For example, properly siting the building on the land is integral to the overall project and can reduce impact to the site and costs later on. Similarly, placement of the building will impact many future decisions such as lighting, landscaping, and access. These are all critical decisions that influence such aspects as comfort, student safety, and energy usage.

Charrettes, collaborative sessions designed to address specific issues, are often used to help teams challenge each other and achieve agreement. This not only increases the enjoyment and reduces the stress of the project, but provides for enhanced communication and efficiency.

At River Crest Elementary, the window selection provided a challenge that led to a new solution. Andersen Windows, a local window manufacturer, was brought in to consult on alternatives. After several meetings between Andersen and members of the project team, a new highly sustainable commercial product was developed specifically for use in this new school. The innovative solution boosted the local economy, solidified connections within the community, reduced energy usage, and improved healthy daylighting in the school.

In another instance, model options for the HVAC system were considered at NPHS. A trusted expert, who had regularly been a consultant on similar project teams, stated that he felt like the prescribed chillers might be bigger than necessary. Simulation models were run, considering the often-frigid Wisconsin climate, occupancy trends, and other factors. The conclusion was reached that the larger chiller would only be necessary in extremely rare and unlikely instances. Furthermore, it was determined that the temperature might flow up only two degrees above an optimum temperature of 75 degrees if those circumstances were present.

When school officials were presented with this scenario and the facts that the smaller chiller would cost less, be more efficient, and reduce demand charges from the utility provider, they readily said, “We’ll take that small, calculated risk.” In two years of operation, NPHS has yet to test the capacity of even the smaller chiller.

Experiencing the Benefits of Total Project Management   
Great pride and pleasure in a finished school is the greatest benefit of TPM. We literally saw tears of joy from several teachers at River Crest Elementary as they moved into their new school. The administration at NPHS has seen a difference too. “The attitude of our students is night and day,” says Northland Pines District Administrator Dr. Mike Richie. He cites a greater pride among students, increased respect and care for the facility, and a marked reduction in discipline issues.

At its core, TPMg is about listening, responding, collaborating, and engaging to ensure that all ideas are uncovered. Then, the best solutions are fully implemented to produce a school that minimizes the impact on the natural environment and maximizes relationships with the community. When done well, it also improves the morale of teachers and staff, the bottom line of the school district, and most importantly, the education of students.

Paul J. Hoffman is owner and CEO of Hoffman LLC, the Wisconsin-based planning, architecture, and construction management firm that partnered with both NPHS and River Crest Elementary. He is a frequent author and speaker and currently vice-chairman of the Associated General Contractors of America Building Division. He can be reached at [email protected]