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Summer Blitz Success: Thurmont Elementary School – Phase 1

Located at 805 East Main Street at the east end of the Town of Thurmont, Thurmont Elementary School was originally constructed on the 15-acre site in 1955. Additions to the school were made in 1959 and 1976, resulting in a facility of 60,000 SF, but the school had not been touched since.

Thurmont takes pride in being a school where, in the spirit of their mission statement, “Every child can learn, and every child will learn.” The elementary school continues to build on its success as it hopes to become even more effective at addressing the needs and interests of children. That is why, in the Summer of 2022, they decided to undergo Phase 1 renovations in support of this mission.

As General Superintendent, I was at the helm of this expeditious project, leading the operations on the ground of what is known as a Summer Blitz – putting millions of dollars of work in place in just eight weeks. With five fast-paced blitz projects under my belt, I was prepared for the task.

The success of a Summer Blitz project relies on engaging many moving parts all at once, which in turn allows for the students to get back in their newly renovated school in the Fall, without any disruption in their schedule.

Maximizing Materials and Existing Conditions

This fast production requires procurement of the materials needed for the project, to be released early, prior to the start of construction, since every second on the job site matters. With such intensive schedules, we maximize materials and conditions.

Its advantageous to utilize existing partitions, MEP, etc. and incorporate them into the design to eliminate added work. For instance, there’s no sense in demolishing a wall if it can stay up – keeping the wall in place with the short amount of time allocated to wrap up the project is more efficient. Perhaps all the wall needed was point up or electrical rough in, therefore there would be no reason to redo this wall since it is already framed in and drywalled.

The construction industry right now is experiencing abnormally high lead times. The MCN team, in collaboration with our design partner, identified aspects of the project that were required for the successful turnover of the first phase. We used problem-solving skills and strong relationships with vendors and subcontractors to ensure that the school’s entire program was delivered in phase 1 despite long lead times.

Maintaining Manpower and Time Management

The main challenge we have encountered while performing a Summer Blitz is lack of manpower. I always ensure there is enough personnel on site to put the necessary work in place. For instance, if there’s a wall framed up, people should be working on roughing in the walls and double shifting. They would therefore be working days and nights as a solution to make up for the deficit in manpower.

In addition, time management is key. I always strive to figure out ways to get the personnel some time away from the job so that no one burns out. That is why we try to split up arrival times of team members so that not everybody is there at the same time, even though the labor is very demanding. That segmentation allows for the project to be constantly supervised throughout different hours of the day.

Delivering Results

At the end of the day, we made a commitment to the client, students, teachers, and community to deliver a high-quality project on time, and it was our job to deliver on it. Creating a team atmosphere on this project and every MCN project is essential to the project’s success. Ensuring not only was there transparent communication between MCN’s internal team but also with the subcontractors. Good communication boosts onsite morale, engagement, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

Co-Located Facilities Serving Community Needs

At MCN Build, we are dedicated to serving our community with sustainable projects that benefit a shared commitment to something bigger than ourselves.  As the District continues to grow, the need for co-located project facilities is rising.

The KIPP Highlands Campus – where MCN Build is constructing a new state-of-the-art high school and renovating the recreation center and shared community spaces, with design partner Studio TwentySeven Architecture (S27) – is the perfect example of how co-located educational and recreation facilities can serve the surrounding community.

KIPP DC currently consists of 18 public charter schools located at seven different campuses throughout DC, educating more than 6,500 students in the local community. They first seek to understand the needs of an area, specifically focusing on underserved communities. Ward 8 has been historically underserved, both in terms of neighborhood amenities and access to education. Community stakeholders identified and discussed locations for a potential new facility.

In 2019, KIPP DC proposed a community center redevelopment project that included a DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) community center, which would be open to the local community, as well as utilizing a portion of the site to develop a new high school facility. This facility would also provide shared spaces for department programming such as adult education and workforce training.

In 2020, Mayor Bowser announced that KIPP DC had been awarded the Ferebee-Hope site in Ward 8 for the permanent home for a second KIPP DC high school. The proposed new 110,000 SF state-of-the-art high school would include a baseball diamond, a full multisport field with a track, and a community garden. The school would provide a high-quality educational program, meeting the needs of the District’s students and families.

The new 20,000 SF community recreation center was envisioned to serve as an asset for the surrounding community and the District. The community recreation center (operated by the DPR) includes an adjacent 4,000 SF partner space, basketball court, technology lounge, multi-purpose room, swimming pool, and parking.

This proposed co-located facility would be a first-of-its-kind community campus that promotes educational excellence, wellness, and lifelong learning.

As part of KIPP DC’s commitment to promoting lifelong learning and educational opportunities for residents of all ages, partner spaces and facilities are located adjacent to the recreation center. These spaces are envisioned to house high-quality community-based partner organizations, allow space for community meetings, and provide adult education opportunities for job training programs. The goal is to develop true meaningful partnerships and connections between the surrounding community and KIPP DC.

The co-location of programs and facilities truly benefits Ward 8 residents, the District, and KIPP DC. The school development meets KIPP DC’s programmatic needs, the District retains an asset that is fully renovated and well maintained, and the residents of Ward 8 receive a completely renovated recreation center where they have input on the programming, access to adult education, and a high performing high school option for their children.

Our community engagement began at the very start of the project. We met with the surrounding community, listened to their needs, and created a forum for discussion. The KIPP Highlands community was extremely invested and involved in the future of their neighborhood, and through these community meetings, we were able to learn a lot about the needs and goals of the project. Through a collaborative process, the final design was sculpted.

The project broke ground in January 2021, and the recreation center was delivered in August 2021, followed by the High School which was delivered in December 2021. The baseball field, playground, and community garden are slated to deliver in February 2022, followed by the football field and community center, with the entire project set to complete this summer. Our previous experience with DPR and S27 allowed us to navigate challenges that would potentially arise on a fast-track project such as the KIPP Highlands Campus.

A major advantage of a co-located facility such as the KIPP Highlands Campus is shared amenity access. The multipurpose field, track, outdoor basketball court, baseball diamond, playground, and parking are considered shared amenities, allowing each facility to access more program space than if created independently. The multipurpose field and track are used by KIPP DC during school hours and by the community on the weekends and after school hours.

The open design for the new Highlands Campus creates visual corridors and connections between the facilities and programs, inviting all neighborhood residents to actively use the facilities, and providing opportunities for multi-generational gatherings. We believe this truly benefits all of the residents of Ward 8.

The Highlands Campus will be an asset to the surrounding community. In co-locating DPR’s recreation center, the KIPP DC high school, and community-based spaces, the campus creates a much-need hub for the multi-generational residents and community.

Building Equity in Communities

Building our community permeates every aspect of work at MCN and sets the bounds for the types of projects we undertake. We partner with clients, architects, engineers, and professional contractors to create facilities that level the playing field through education or otherwise enhance human dignity. The clients we work with improve access to education, housing, and healthcare in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner. In turn, the communities we build for realize positive, social impact that is quantifiable in the medium to long term.

Our clients and implementing partners are mission-driven, motivated by excellence, and rooted in shared core values that consistently deliver high-quality projects. In addition to the long-term positive social impact, our projects create, we are responsible for building wealth and equity in the medium term and creating job opportunities in the short term.

We build equity and wealth in our communities by increasing small, minority, and/or disadvantaged businesses’ technical capabilities and management/financial capacities. This is achieved through a variety of means and tools we have available to us. It starts with resource mapping to identify potential partners, progresses through mentoring, and culminates in subcontract awards. In many cases, these businesses begin working on our projects as lower tier subcontractors. This allows them to network with and learn from more established entities, with each opportunity progressively more challenging and significant in scope. Every firm we work with can graduate from the ranks of a lower tier subcontractor to a first tier awardee. This process is never quick, but persistence and perseverance create solid foundations that allow these business owners to grow and eventually create jobs that support thousands of families in underserved communities.

We create job opportunities through workforce development programs and requiring our implementing partners to maximize hiring from under-employed communities. Workforce development is one of the most challenging aspects of the work we do. It requires a partnership between government bodies, community-based organizations, training agencies, and our pool of subcontractors. To be successful, we must orchestrate the intentions of these entities to create a shared vision and choreograph actions that result in everyone working to achieve this same vision.

The government bodies provide access to unemployment data and referrals to pools of potential candidates. The community-based organizations offer soft skills, job readiness training, and social support services that keep the individuals on track. The training agencies and union halls provide ongoing hard technical skills trainings. The subcontractors provide the jobs. In many cases, this process provides a vital second chance for individuals that would otherwise have no hope of a prosperous future.

We build beyond the brick and mortar by delivering real economic opportunities in the communities we work. Creating equity, wealth, and income is an integral part of construction projects. General contractors are uniquely positioned to achieve this economic growth equitably. In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The time is always right to do what is right.” We must remain authentic to our values and intentional in our actions to achieve these objectives, driving our growth into the future.