Wrapping Up the Not-So-Lazy Days of Summer

Wrapping Up the Not-So-Lazy Days of Summer

We’ve reached the end of summer – that warm, relaxing season when students and teachers take some well-deserved time off. But for those of us in K-12 school construction, summertime is anything but slow-paced.

As soon as that final bell rings on the last day of school, we swoop in to begin what we call the “summer jam jobs” – the renovation and improvement assignments that we squeeze into the precious days and weeks when the hallways are empty and our work doesn’t disrupt the important business of education.

Now that classes are back in session in most of the districts where VPCS in engaged, I can take a minute to reflect on the changing realities of summertime school construction work.

When I first got started in this industry, summer breaks lasted as long as three months. Campuses emptied out in early June and kids didn’t typically return until after Labor Day. We sometimes had the luxury of 12 weeks to get things done. Now, we’re lucky if we get eight or nine.

This is a trend that’s happening all around the country. Districts are building more breaks into the academic year (including the now-common mid-winter week off in February), pulling from the summer schedule to make up the difference. Some experts also argue that shortened summer vacations help protect against the “brain drain” that kids experience while away from the school routine for months at a time.

But back to VPCS and the summer jam …

However long the summer break, it’s our job to get in, do the work (and do it well), and get out before kids return in the fall. In advance, we do our pre-construction planning – gathering district requirements, creating detailed budgets, developing schedules, assigning the contractors and subs, and fielding requests from teachers and other end users.

Then comes the start of summer, when the first order of business is helping teachers clear out their rooms. Our orchestrated move plan simplifies the process while keeping room contents organized – yes, even for teachers who have been in their classrooms for years. (We also respect the fact that teachers, too, are eager to begin their vacations, so this phase is quick!)

And with that, we’re off and running. Materials and laborers are at the ready; everyone and everything is where it needs to be; it’s time to get to work. Then, in the final few days of the season, you’ll find us cleaning up, training janitorial staff on new systems, moving furniture back in, performing punch list touch-ups, and doing anything else that supports the teachers and district personnel in their efforts to prep for their students’ return.

Even after all my years in this industry, I still find it amazing to watch all that can happen in a relatively short amount of time.

There’s also a very important component of our job that isn’t built into any of these frenzied schedules, and it might be one of the most valuable things we bring to any job: teacher TLC. We consider it part of our responsibility to reassure teachers that their rooms and tools will, in fact, come back together by the time we’re done. We respect the sanctity of their workspaces, whether they’ve spent a year or a career in their classrooms. Still, the tightened summer schedules means we’re often working right up to the point when their students return. To help alleviate some of the chaos for teachers, we frequently give gift cards they can redeem for extra supplies to help outfit their newly improved rooms.

And just as the back-to-school activity is beginning to build, we are packing up to go. Autumn, relatively speaking, is a quieter season for our K-12 work. It’s when we can look back at our summer jam jobs, both to take pride in our accomplishments and to assess what we might be able to do even better next year.

Whatever the assignments, wherever the schools, districts can count on one thing as VPCS marches toward first-day-of-school deadlines: we will do whatever it takes to get the job done.

By Mike Van Pelt

Winning Wine Country Work

Winning Wine Country Work

The headline news around here is that VPCS was recently awarded both the program and the construction management assignments for the entire Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) $269 million Measure H bond. We’ll be supporting the efforts of a talented team of in-house professionals from various NVUSD departments, as well as numerous consultants who have been hard at work moving this program forward for nearly two years.

Passed in 2016, Measure H will fund modernization and new construction efforts throughout the district’s geographic area encompassing the City and County of Napa, American Canyon and Yountville. Improvements will include technology upgrades and an overhaul of the district-wide kitchen infrastructure, as well as traditional campus and playground work.

As I say, those are the headlines. But if one were to read between those lines, it would reveal just how proud and honored we all are to have earned this work. It is a very big deal to us that NVUSD has entrusted us with this important contract.  Let me share a few reasons why.

First of all, this contract brings the combined total of active projects that VPCS has under design and construction to more than $1 billion. We have reached this exciting milestone by maintaining a steady and strategic pattern of growth over the span of our 22-year history.

Secondly, this proves not only that we can be in the same room with established industry leaders but that we can effectively compete against them for significant contracts. We were one of numerous PM/CM firms that originally submitted proposals for the Measure H work; then we were named to the short list; then we were awarded the assignment. Rising to the top of this prestigious list of local and national companies reflects our time-tested abilities to deliver quality and integrity on both the program and construction management sides of the business. We’re pleased that NVUSD recognized what we’re capable of.

Also, this gives us a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in our own backyard. While VPCS has job trailers sprinkled throughout California, we’ll carry out our Napa assignment just minutes from our company headquarters in Fairfield. We’ll get to work with area architects and subcontractors with whom we’ve established strong professional relationships over the years. Being local didn’t get us this assignment, but it certainly helps solidify the connections that will be forged over the next few years among members of the project team, the district and the community.

Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson will serve as our program manager, overseeing funding and schedules while interacting closely with NVUSD staff. VPCS Senior Project Manager Ray Green will manage active construction, including all site-specific project managers distributed throughout the district. Both will be supported by VPCS staff. As for me, I’ll have the great pleasure of keeping my eye on the entire effort and lending a hand whenever and wherever it’s needed.

I often get nostalgic thinking back on when my brother, Mike, and I got VPCS off the ground in 1996. We were young and ambitious and eager to make a name for ourselves. We sometimes joke about how that was our “garage band” phase. Now here we are, 22 years later, and our little band has more than a billion dollars under contract.

We’re not just making a living; we’re making a difference. We love what we do, we have a fantastic roster of clients who mean the world to us, and we’ve always remained true to our core principles of quality and integrity.

I’ll raise a glass of Napa Valley wine to that!

By Mark Van Pelt