Keeping the Community in the Loop
There are always two very important relationships that we honor and nurture when VPCS works on school projects. The first is the one between us and our client, the school district. And the second is the one between the district and the taxpayers, who are basically our client’s client.
All of us from VPCS who are associated with the San Rafael City Schools district-wide improvement initiative understand that we need to do our best not just for the district, but also for the homeowners throughout this community who approved the two bond measures that are funding the work.
A quick overview of the project: VPCS serves as program manager for the $269 million district-wide effort, made possible when Bond Measures A and B passed in 2016 to fund school improvements and new construction throughout San Rafael. The VPCS team oversees things from the district offices, collaborating closely with district staff as well as construction managers, program architects, contractors and consultants.
As VPCS’s on-site office manager in San Rafael, part of my job is to coordinate with the district communications staff to keep those community members informed, engaged and enthusiastic about what we’re doing. And, given the scope of the program, there is a lot to keep the community up to date on.
In general, our community outreach falls into two categories: communicating about things that will affect people in the short term, and letting them know the bigger-picture status of the long-term project.
Short-term concerns tend to focus on things that will temporarily affect the neighbors who live around the individual school sites where we’re working. We want to give them plenty of notice before we begin a new construction phase, for example, so they can be prepared for a bit more noise, a few more trucks or a couple of blocked parking spots. To report on the bigger-picture story, we inform the public about the status and scheduling on the full program. These sorts of alerts are shared via mailers and newsletters that go out to all local residents.
It’s also very important that we communicate to the people affiliated with the affected schools themselves – the students, parents, teachers and staff. Sometimes, we need to let them know about sections of a campus that will be inaccessible for a certain amount of time. Or we need to notify teachers when they’ll need to move out of certain classrooms. When we have important updates to share with this audience, we usually draft notices for the principals to distribute through their own email and newsletter channels.
Whatever the message and whoever the target audience, we keep things upbeat. Sure, construction projects can create some temporary headaches but it’s all part of the journey toward a very positive outcome. (That is certainly the case in San Rafael, where Measures A and B are paving the way for fantastically improved schools.) No matter what’s happening, we do what we can to smooth the way for everyone concerned. Once, when we had to relocate kids at one elementary school into temporary classrooms that were farther from the lunchroom, we brought in ponchos and umbrellas that they could use outside on rainy days. At another site, we worked with school staff and teachers to customize advanced communications, timelines and packing/unpacking instructions for temporary classroom and library relocations so they knew what to expect at all phases of the process. Helping manage people’s expectations is key to ensuring moves like these are successful.
In the construction world, there’s always a lot going on – and those are just the things we anticipate! When we factor in all the little unforeseen things that crop up every day on every job site, there’s a lot to keep folks informed about so that they can stay enthusiastic about the work being done. But that’s our priority, because those are the people we’re working for. And we never forget it.
By Phyllis Silverstein