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Summer Blitz Success at Thurmont Elementary School

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.

Achieving Net Zero at Banneker High School

Banneker Academic High School is one of the first Net Zero Energy (NZE) Public Schools in the District. The high-performing school was built to align with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Sustainable DC Initiative to make “the District the healthiest, greenest, most livable city for all District Residents.” Sustainable DC outlines goals with actionable targets spanning from energy and water to equity and education, addressing the sustainability requirements and the concerns of residents and community disparities. Specifically in this plan is an action item for Net Zero schools.

The District’s NZE manual for green building will be based on the groundbreaking practices from Banneker. The new educational facility was brought up to date to the current District education specifications, including specific square footage per student, minimum cubic feet per minute (CFM) of outside air coming in, and specific educational tools and layout characteristics all brought to this standard.

The state-of-the-art facility has an open atrium at the heart of the school, well-lit classrooms, collaboration areas, gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, coffee shop, science labs, studio and performing arts spaces, and outdoor learning areas. The District has a stormwater management manual, a green building management manual, and various other guidelines that were also followed.

An NZE school is a building whose total energy usage is equal to or less than the energy it generates, meaning the building does not take energy from the grid and is self-sustaining. A building typically achieves this through two main strategies: reducing its energy usage demands and producing any energy needed through renewable sources. Key components that accomplish these strategies on an NZE school are solar elements, supplemented by other features that allow end-users to monitor the building performance needs. There is also an opportunity for the school even to return power to the grid when their solar panels produce excess power not needed to operate the school.

Solar Panels

Banneker was delivered as NZE Ready, which means we have installed all the infrastructures in the building to allow it to meet NZE criteria. All that remains is the installation of solar panels. Solar panel racks are in place in preparation for when the District awards the school solar panels as part of their city-wide solar strategy. Once the panels are installed and functioning, the school will be operating as an NZE building. Solar panels contribute to our NZE goals as renewable energy credits (RECs), which are the energy generated by renewable energy sources and are the real value in NZE.

Geothermal Wells

In addition to solar panels, Banneker has super-efficient systems in place. Heating and cooling for the building is based on water source heat pumps. The geothermal well system is a system that loops water down 500 feet underground where there is a constant temperature all year round. This constant temperature cools or heats water depending on the heating or cooling load needed. This system uses significantly less energy than a traditional HVAC system.

At Banneker, there are 125 geothermal wells on-site to help heat and cool such a large building. The school has heat pumps for every three to four rooms, so there isn’t a sizeable central system – no large fans or cooling towers that you would typically see.

Effective Environments

The building incorporates a series of strategies around daylight, thermal comfort, acoustics, and indoor environmental quality to generate a high-performance learning center. Outside air is brought into the school through a central DOAS that provides air to the building generally but can target specifics areas as the loads fluctuate.

Remember getting drowsy during class in the afternoon? This is because the oxygen levels in the classroom fall. We’ve incorporated sensors that detect the CO2 levels in the classroom. Once they get low, fresh air is circulated back into the classroom – one of the many features contributing to our LEED strategy on this project. The primary focus is the health of the students and ensuring a safe environment. We also performed indoor air quality testing to ensure no residual volatile organic compounds (VOCs), harmful odors, or contaminants were flushed out before the school is turned over.

How does the design-build team incorporate NZE into a building? It all starts with the preconstruction team. When the requirement is NZE or NZE Ready, the preconstruction team performs checks and balances to ensure the pricing and costs match the delivery ask. Going over budget with NZE is easy, so the preconstruction team needed to monitor costs and implications. All the crucial decisions relative to NZE are made during the preconstruction process.

Honoring a Legacy

Banneker Academic High School’s design honors the legacy of Benjamin Banneker and compliments the neighborhood’s architecture. Benjamin Banneker was an African American scientist, surveyor, almanac author, and farmer. While working in the District, he became associated with the law enforcement who laid out the original city.

Throughout the school, there are several design elements to honor and celebrate Benjamin Banneker. The terrazzo flooring that was installed in all circulation areas was carefully detailed to visually reflect the grid system that the school’s namesake helped within the late 18th century. Banneker was also a watchmaker, and in the school’s atrium, there is a global watch hanging sculpture to celebrate his achievements. The state-of-the-art high school also features a rooftop terrace with a garden for students, a community skatepark, and a community dog park.

Sabrina Moroz, Sustainability Specialist, also contributed to this article.