The Votes Are In. Now What?

The Votes Are In. Now What?

The 2022 election cycle has come to a close. In many California communities, voters were asked to support local K-12 school bonds. For districts whose bond measures passed, this is roll-up-the-sleeves time. As experienced program managers (PMs), VPCS has seen many school districts through this process, providing guidance and support to ensure a smooth process within our clients’ communities.

At VPCS, we follow best practices in everything we do. When it comes time to help school districts implement strategies after local bond measures pass, here are some of the keys to our advice:

Form your citizens’ bond oversight committee (CBOC).

If your district passed a Proposition 39 bond, which requires 55% of the vote to pass, California law requires that you form a CBOC. If yours was a Proposition 47 bond, which can pass with only 67% percent of the vote, CBOCs are not legally stipulated – but are still highly recommended. Work closely with your PM team and your legal counsel to ensure that you are meeting your statutory obligations as well as your community’s needs by forming this committee and drafting its formal bylaws.

Consider your CBOC roster.

CBOCs are made up of local community members, school board representatives, district administrators and other stakeholders. Together, these individuals are responsible for ensuring that taxpayer dollars are properly allocated through the life of the bond. If your district recently passed its bond, you should immediately begin recruiting CBOC volunteer members, each of whom will need to be formally appointed by your school board. Work closely with your legal counsel to ensure your CBOC formation efforts comply with the Proposition 39 bond statute and the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Create a CBOC website.

Build a dedicated online home for your CBOC. This will be the single source of details, resources and status updates for everything related to your bond. Since there is specific language that must be used (and avoided) on CBOC sites, this is another task that should be done with the help of experienced PMs and reviewed by legal counsel.

Develop a preliminary implementation plan.

Now that you know the amount of bond funds that passed, it’s time to lay out a tiered plan that maps out how and when to put those dollars to work in your district. Of course, this means prioritizing projects based on your district’s established goals. Unfortunately, there is almost always more need than funding, so not everything can likely get accomplished. An experienced PM team can help determine how to allocate those taxpayer dollars most effectively, particularly when voters are expecting specific results based on campaign promises. Implementation plans are living documents that can and should be updated at least annually to ensure that they still align with board priorities, community expectations, legislative requirements, etc.

Start some projects.

Depending on the size of your bond, your larger projects may take some time to get off the ground. However, you can always dive right in with smaller elements of your plan to show your community that you’re hitting the ground running. Improve a stretch of frontage, repaint a building or make a small enhancement to a campus. Do things that are needed and covered by your overall budget, but won’t get in the way of bigger projects to come. While you’re at it, post a sign that reminds your constituents that their tax dollars are already hard at work.

Establish a bond program schedule.

Create a bond program schedule that overlaps with other funding opportunities, including potential future state bonds. The Coalition for Adequate Student Housing (CASH) and the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) are both predicting that a statewide bond will hit ballots in 2024, so districts should begin tracking that potential cash flow now. This is especially critical when local bond funds fall short of a district’s total demonstrated need.

Work with experts.

Passing a bond is cause for celebration, but nothing to take lightly. With seasoned, trustworthy partners on your district’s team, you are in a stronger position to deliver what voters have asked for and students deserve. Please contact VPCS if we can be of service.

 

November 28, 2022

Document Prep for the New Year: Four Tips for School Districts

Document Prep for the New Year: Four Tips for School Districts

The end of the calendar year is when school districts begin to think about the tasks – particularly related to paperwork and documentation – that need to be done to ensure that everything is in order prior to kicking off a new year. With 2023 right around the corner, VPCS is here to help. Perhaps your district has a new bond measure on the November ballot. If not, you might be part-way through a bond program. Or maybe your district is gearing up for capital improvements. Whatever your district’s current situation, this is the time to do some important housekeeping so you’re ready for the coming year.

We work closely with our client districts to help them prepare their annual documents for any and all upcoming capital improvement projects. Because when the paperwork is in proper order, it smooths the way for everything that follows.

Members of the VPCS team just returned from the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH) 2022 Fall Conference, where this was one of the topics on the agenda. Here are four key takeaways from those discussions – actions that school districts can take now to hit the ground running in 2023:

1. Update your prequalification and CUPCCAA lists.

Make sure that your lists of prequalified and California Uniform Public Construction Cost Accounting Act (CUPCCAA) contractors are up to date. (And if you’re not already using CUPCCAA, we highly recommend it, as it greatly streamlines the procurement process.) Keeping these lists current allows existing contractors to verify the accuracy of their information, while also opening up your list to potential new vendors.

2. Review your PM/CM and architect pools for RFQs.

If it’s been a few years since you last distributed an RFQ – or if a pandemic has occurred in the meantime – it might be time to take a fresh look at the vendor lists from which you typically draw. The state requires that pools for key consultants, including architecture and program/construction management firms, be updated every five years, so keeping those pools current is critical to securing state funding for projects. Of course, if your district has a new bond program coming out, you’ll want your RFQs to align with the anticipated projects so you’re in the best position to line up the right consultants for the work. And the sooner you update your RFQs, the more quickly you can begin effectively planning upcoming projects.

3. Button up your bid packages’ content.

Every year, the state codes change. So, too, does the language that needs to be used in bid documents. It’s critical to work closely with your legal counsel and program managers to stay up to date on how to craft and communicate your district’s needs and ensure adherence to proper procurement processes. This is a clear best practice priority that can dramatically improve the likelihood of your district’s success.

4. Time your bids properly.

The best time to bid your district’s projects is early in the calendar year, which means preparing them now. This will allow you to line up your teams well in advance of the end of the school year so construction work can go at full steam during the summer months. It also clears the path for you to begin the process again as 2023 winds down and you begin the cycle all over again to gear up for 2024.

At VPCS, our top priority is supporting our districts with best practices – whether we’re overseeing facilities improvements or facilitating the process of preparing for new bond cycles. We are firmly committed to doing what is best for our clients, including helping them identify the most qualified vendors. We’re not happy unless our districts feel confident that they’re in good hands.

October 25, 2022

Why Local Bond Initiatives Are Good for California

Why Local Bond Initiatives Are Good for California

November is just around the corner, which means it’s almost time for Californians to go to the polls. Election season is especially important to those of us in school construction because it’s when voters cast their ballots for school bond measures for K-12 and community college districts.

In the upcoming November 8, 2022 elections, there will be 100 separate general obligation (GO) bond measures for K-12 school and community college districts on the ballots throughout the state, according to data from the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH).

In California, the Local Control Funding Formula (which has been in effect since 2013) allocates dollars for general operational costs at the state’s public schools. However, very little, if any, of those funds end up being available for facilities construction. That’s why GO bonds are so important, as they are earmarked specifically for facilities construction projects within individual districts.

Among our current district clients whose communities have GO bond measures on the upcoming ballot are:

  • Napa Valley Unified School District: Measures A1 and A2
  • Pleasanton Unified School District: Measure I
  • Calistoga Joint Unified School District: Measure B
  • East Side Union High School District: Measures G, E, I, Technology I and Z

If passed, these initiatives – and other comparable bond measures from elsewhere in the state – would provide funding for critical pre-planning, master planning and construction efforts for new and modernized school facilities. Additionally, these types of bond-funded projects would contribute to job growth throughout California.

At VPCS, we do whatever we can to support California’s GO school bond measures, whether or not they target our client districts. That’s one of the many reasons we’re so active in organizations such as CASH (including its Legislative Advisory Committee and its School Facilities Leadership Academy), the California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO) and the Community College Facility Coalition.

We understand that our public educational agencies are under-funded at both the state and the federal levels and that the only way to raise the funds necessary to build and improve facilities is to garner local support.

Supporting school bond measures helps strengthen communities. It’s a way for local taxpayers to show K-12 and community college districts that they are willing to invest in their own communities, bolster local economies by creating construction jobs and solidify California’s public education mission. Most importantly, it demonstrates a commitment to achievement for students of all ages.

For all these reasons and more, VPCS believes in the promise of local bond initiatives. We hope to see you at the polls.

October 5, 2022

How We Spent Our Summer Break

How We Spent Our Summer Break

Late August is always an exciting time on K-12 campuses as teachers, staff, students and families prepare for the start of a new school year. But for those of us in school construction, it’s the end of a very busy season. We work hard all year round, but summertime is when we really kick things into high gear. We pride ourselves on not disrupting activities on occupied campuses, so once schools begin to empty out in June, we really get going.

The summer of 2022 was certainly no exception. Our fantastic K-12 teams have spent the past couple of months helping to transform schools throughout Northern California. In little more than 60 days, we’ve completed more than $72 million worth of projects in 11 different districts. That means new and improved classrooms, upgraded equipment, safer learning environments, and more – all to benefit the districts we serve and the kids we’re here to support.

To get a sense of what all that effort looks like, we asked team leaders to tell us how they spent the past couple of months.

Pleasanton Unified School District. We were quite busy completing nearly $30 million worth of work in Pleasanton, where we touched 16,320 square feet, including finishing one brand new school. A big piece of our work was completing a $19 million heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and roofing project and improving fire alarm systems at six sites. (The accompanying image shows a rooftop at Fairlands Elementary part-way through the replacement process.) VPCS Vice President Eric Van Pelt praises Project Manager (PM) Jenny Choi, who did a great job overseeing the HVAC and roofing effort.

Napa Valley Unified School District. We completed modernizations at two sites in this district (American Canyon Middle School and the Napa Valley Language Academy), completing approximately $16.3 million worth of work across 280,000 square feet. We demoed existing buildings, performed dry rot repairs, painted, installed new HVAC systems, reroofed, made accessibility upgrades, and more. PM Jennifer Kerr worked closely with Arntz Builders and PBK Architects, who helped introduce the district to its first design-build project at American Canyon Middle School and have been great partners throughout the process.

Windsor Unified School District. We kicked off the summer by moving out more than 50 classrooms at two sites, relocating them into 12 temporary portables and 17 brand new classrooms in the new school building that will open in the fall of 2023 (complete with 1200 yards of new concrete poured into its foundation!). We also re-arranged some of the district’s campuses to accommodate Windsor’s new transitional kindergarten program. PM Brian Cameron says there’s been great team coordination among the district, contractors and architects, all of whom have helped deliver this $14 million effort.

Atwater Elementary School District. Twenty-five classrooms were built or modernized across 15,000 square feet, and 15 new HVAC units were installed. Total budget: $4,400,000. Senior PM Mary Ann Duggan says there’s a lot of excitement in the local community about these improvements and she wants to say a special thank you to the general contractor, CT Brayton & Sons, who kept things going while managing multiple projects simultaneously.

San Jose Unified School District. VPCS PM Mohammed Mhanna reports that all $4,125,000 worth of 2022 summertime projects in San Jose were completed on time and within budget, in spite of ongoing supply chain hiccups that were out of our control. We worked on a total of approximately 56,000 square feet over the summer season throughout the district and Mohammed says Stronger Building Services really stepped up to the plate.

Berkeley Unified School District. With students away for the summer, our team was able to complete the top-to-bottom $1,040,000 renovation of this district’s 1687 square foot culinary classroom. Here, too, supply chain delays have been an issue, but we finally received delivery on all the equipment required to replace the classroom’s large appliances. VPCS PM Eduardo Rivera-Garcia praises the team, particularly the superintendent at W.A. Thomas, Inc., whose careful scheduling of subs helped deliver the project on time.

Calistoga Joint Unified School District. In Calistoga, we’ve been busy with a variety of small projects at numerous sites, for a combined total of $1,000,000 worth of work spread out across 4500 square feet. We tackled plumbing, insulation, flooring, paint, parking lots, classroom conversions, lunch shelters, and more. We even began an upgrade to the district-wide IT system. Project Assistant Melanie Griffiths is extremely proud of the VPCS team and its partners, all of whom pitched into the collaborative effort, doing whatever it took to come through on this multi-faceted assignment.

Cloverdale Unified School District. Our Cloverdale summer season was faster paced than most, as the $300,000 worth of work did not officially get approved until the June school board meeting, so we needed to go into hyperdrive as soon as we got the assignment. Still, that’s what we do so we got right to it. We were able to make improvements across 3000 square feet of classroom and campus spaces in time for the return of students and staff. VPCS PM Kevin Little appreciates Wright Contracting’s commitment to quality and efficiency, which made this success possible.

Old Adobe Union School District. Here, we were asked to construct two new parking areas for parents and staff and have them ready in time for the August start of the new school year. Things got a little tight when certain required elements came in later than expected, but the team jumped on it as soon as everything was available. VPCS PM Kevin Little thanks JL Construction for going above and beyond the call of duty and helping deliver both parking areas – a combined 5000 square feet – by the deadline.

Piner-Olivet Union School District. We’ve had a busy summer in western Santa Rosa, where we’ve been working on a variety of projects. From landscaping to marquee work and adding fresh coats of paint to structures throughout the district, we completed all $650,000 worth of work well in time to welcome back students and staff. Melanie Griffiths, who oversaw this effort in addition to the Calistoga work, wants to thank Jennifer Gibb, our new director of business development, who jumped in to help with last-minute details on behalf of this district. At VPCS, it takes a village!

August 25, 2022

 

 

 

Introducing Jennifer Gibb, VPCS’s New Director of Business Development

Introducing Jennifer Gibb, VPCS’s New Director of Business Development

Big news from the VPCS home office: We’re excited to announce that Jennifer Gibb has joined our ranks as our inaugural director of business development. We talked with Jennifer and VPCS Vice President Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson about this exciting new addition to the firm’s leadership team.

Q:  What’s the best way to describe this new role?

JENNIFER: Van Pelt has always valued its relationships in this industry, both with clients and partners. My job as director of business development will be to shine light on those strengths and weave them into the strategy for future growth. I’ll be contributing to the larger effort of being thoughtful about how we expand our reach to build the business, but also building our internal team to support that growth. Getting new clients is one thing, but it’s critical to have the right internal players who support the company’s core values.

Q:  What’s your professional background, Jennifer? 

JENNIFER: I’ve been on the client side of this business, having run a bond program for a large school district. So I know what owners want and need from CMs and PMs. I’ve also worked for a school planning consultancy, so I’ve seen this industry from just about every angle. I’m a graduate of the CASH [Coalition for Adequate School Housing] School Facilities Leadership Academy and am certified by CASBO [the California Association of School Business Officials] as a Chief Business Official. Plus, I have a degree in business with a concentration in finance, and you can’t do construction without understanding how projects get funded.

Q:  What are your professional superpowers?

JENNIFER: Well, first, I’m a connector; a professional relationship builder. I naturally know how to find ways to bring the right people to the table. I might not know all the answers to every question that comes up, but I know who to ask so everyone gets the information they need. I’m able to make things happen for clients and partners because I’ve worked hard to cultivate relationships throughout the industry. The other thing I bring is a deep background in finance. I understand the complexities of how public works projects are funded at every stage – from planning to close-out to occupancy.

Q:  What is it about VPCS that made you want to join this team?

JENNIFER:  We share all the same values. They care more about their clients and employees than anything else, and that’s how I’ve always operated. They’re willing to go above and beyond, which really speaks to me because that’s how I work too. I’m really solutions-oriented, and that’s exactly how everyone at VPCS approaches things. My job is to support this company’s growth in a way that allows existing clients to feel fully taken care of and internal teams to feel fully engaged. In other words, growth is okay if you have a strategic plan behind it. I’m excited to be a part of a growing company that is taking the steps to grow internally as well. That’s why I feel so at home here. VPCS cares deeply about its clients and employees.

Q:  How does Jennifer’s appointment and her job responsibilities reflect the company’s commitment to strategic growth, Kelli?

KELLI:  In the past, business development has been a group effort among our staff and core leadership. As our firm grows, we want the opportunity to deliver our services to as many districts as possible while also maintaining the strong relationships we already have with existing clients, colleagues and business partners. Building our clientele doesn’t just help VPCS; it provides a richer experience and set of services for our clients. When we develop a larger network, it’s something all of our clients can benefit from.

Q:  Why is Jennifer the best person for this role?

KELLI:  When we created the business development director position, we wanted someone with real world expertise. We wanted the person talking about our services to actually know how those services are provided and personally know the business partners we work with. Jennifer brings a wide network of business connections from her years of experience in the K-12 construction industry, both as an owner and a vendor. We feel very fortunate to have someone on our team who is so well respected in the industry. Jennifer’s deep connections with CASH and CASBO are also very consistent with VPCS’s values. She’ll help us to support further advocacy for school facilities at the state level.

Q:  What drives you in your work life, Jennifer?

JENNIFER:  The same things that drive everyone at VPCS: We’re here to help districts align their resources to the most pressing local needs, then implement plans to meet those needs in ways that benefit kids. When children have better facilities, cleaner air to breathe, more comfortable learning environments, infrastructure that supports nutritional programs – all of it helps improve student achievement. For me, it always comes back to the kids. We can all be thought partners and work together for the betterment of kids.

July 25, 2022

Project Spotlight: The CORE Building at CSUEB

Project Spotlight: The CORE Building at CSUEB

We always enjoy delivering spectacular projects to our clients, and the new CORE Building on the Hayward campus of California State University East Bay (CSUEB) is certainly no exception. Work is nearly complete on this state-of-the-art, $85 million, 100,000 square feet, LEED Gold structure, which will serve as the new heart of the campus.

The CORE Building will replace and expand upon the functions of CSUEB’s original library while adding new collaborative spaces that connect the upper and lower sections of campus. Here’s what can be found on the building’s three levels:

  • Ground floor: Collaboration zones and innovation labs, including the Hub for Entrepreneurship
  • Second floor: A modern new library that helps students research and navigate the information age economy; study spaces inside and on the exterior roof deck
  • Third floor: The peer-led Student Center for Academic Achievement (SCAA); an enclosed lounge space; study carrels; a meditation area

We’re proud to have helped bring the CORE to life, given the very special relationship between VPCS and the CSU system. Back when we were just getting started 25 years ago, they gave us a chance to show what we were capable of by hiring us for our first major contract. Since then, we’ve delivered more than 60 major capital projects for CSU, managing work at six of the system’s 23 campuses. On the Hayward campus alone, we’ve worked on numerous projects since 2006.

“The experience VPCS brings by having done so much work for the CSU system is really valuable, since CSU has its own processes and procedures when it comes to capital projects,” says Quan Lee, our senior project manager on the CORE Building site. “CSU keeps coming back to VPCS because of that experience. VPCS just has such a good understanding of the CSU process and how projects of any size should be managed on behalf of this client, which helps things go smoothly.”

We fully expected to construct the CORE Building while university activities were in full swing, adapting to the needs of students and faculty – and, most importantly, staying out of their way. In fact, we’re known for our ability to keep a low profile on an occupied campus. But the timing of this project lightened that load somewhat, as we broke ground in early 2020, just two months before the pandemic closed the campus. So construction continued on a mostly empty site until classes resumed in the fall of 2021, at which point we adjusted back to our routine of working on a busy campus. A dedication celebration was held last month, and we expect to wrap up our work on the project soon.

When it comes to the impact this project will have, Quan sums it up nicely: “Partly because of its size and also because it sits right in the center of campus, the CORE Building is going to be the new focal point of CSUEB. It’s going to help make this a very dynamic university campus.”

Check out a fly-through animation of the CORE Building here and a timelapse video of the project’s construction by clicking on the “Time-Lapses” button here.

 

June 27, 2022

Putting CASH Academy Training to Work

Putting CASH Academy Training to Work

VPCS has a long and rich relationship with the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH), which advocates to ensure that California’s public school facilities are safe and healthy places where students can learn and thrive. For the past few years, we’ve strengthened our ties to CASH by sending members of our team to the CASH School Facilities Leadership Academy, a prestigious and rigorous certification program developed in partnership with the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT).

VPCS Project Manager Brian Cameron is the latest of our proud CASH Academy graduates. Brian recently took time out of his work with the Windsor Unified School District to speak about the Academy program and how it affected him as a school construction professional.

Q:  What impact does CASH have on California’s schools?

BC:  CASH is a coalition of school district representatives, contractors, consultants and other professionals involved in the facilities side of our state’s public schools. It’s an organization that brings people together to share information and strategies about school construction, facilities management, planning, funding, etc. CASH puts on a conference each year and VPCS is always very involved in that.

Q:  What is the CASH School Facilities Leadership Academy?

BC:  This is a certification program that CASH puts on each year in collaboration with California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team. It’s an intensive year-long program you have to apply to. If you’re lucky enough to be accepted, you attend classes with the rest of your “cohort” once a month – over a Friday and Saturday – alternating between classroom locations in Sacramento and Ontario.

Q:  When did you go through the program?

BC:  I was accepted into the cohort that began last year (in March 2021) and we finished up this spring. We were still in Covid protocols when we began, so my 50-person cohort actually started the program via Zoom. That was fine, I guess, but it was really great when we finally got to start gathering in person. It’s just so much more powerful to be able to work side-by-side with people and talk shop – first, to get to know everybody, but also to hear how they’ve tackled some of the things that all of us in school construction deal with every day.

Q:  What types of content does the Academy cover?

BC:  It’s pretty much every topic that pertains to facilities management and construction. Site acquisition, funding (including how to secure bonds), working with state agencies and that kind of thing. We also went deep into the nuts and bolt of design and construction – things like the architects’ process, procurement, reviewing contracts and more.

Q:  Why was it important to you to attend the CASH Academy?

BC:  Even though I’ve been in this industry for a while now and I grew up in a construction family, there’s always more to learn. That’s part of what I love so much about construction management; I learn something new literally every day. So the Academy was a way to get an even more intense education on the kinds of things that help me do my job even better. It gave me information that can help me answer questions on behalf of the district I represent and it also taught me how to go out and find answers to trickier questions that sometimes come up.

Q:  How did the program change the way you do your job?

BC:  It’s just given me such a broad perspective on every aspect of what VPCS does for our district clients. Just the other day, we were going over the idea of a master plan for the Windsor district, which is required when you go out for a bond. And I was able to draw on an Academy homework assignment that involved a detailed masterplan review, so I could really advise the district on some of the nuances of that process. Also, the Academy program required us to do a fair amount of presentations, which was a way to get better at public speaking. It turned out to be great practice for going in front of school board meetings and public gatherings – something we do all the time in our work as CMs. It’s really amazing – things come up every day that relate to what I studied at the CASH Academy.

Q:  Have you stayed in touch with other members of your cohort?

BC:  Absolutely. We’re a pretty tight-knit group, and that’s been one of my favorite parts of this experience – building these professional relationships with people in and around districts all over California. We have an ongoing email thread, so if any kind of question comes up in the context of someone’s work, they’ll toss it to the group to see if somebody else in the cohort might be able to help. It’s a fantastic form of networking.

Q:  You’re one of two VPCS employees who have been through the Academy, is that correct?

BC:  Yes. Kelli [Van Pelt Jurgenson] went through the program before I did. It’s a pretty big deal for a CM/PM firm to have not just one but two graduates of the Academy in their ranks. Plus, another member of the VPCS team is currently going through the CASH program that just started, so that’ll make three of us CASH Academy graduates by this time next year … and I expect more people from VPCS will continue to apply. It’s really a lot of hard work, especially given that you still have to do your regular job while also getting ready for CASH Academy weekend sessions. But it’s pretty powerful to think what a difference we can make with this kind of professional education. I do believe it sets VPCS apart.

May 23, 2022

From MTV to VPCS: Catching Up with Charles Harbour

From MTV to VPCS: Catching Up with Charles Harbour

Since joining us in 2018, Charles Harbour has been applying his project management skills to multiple sites around the Berkeley Unified School District. While he’s a great construction management professional, he’s also a great addition to our team because of all the other things that make him who he is. Learn more about Charles, including his stint in music television, in this Q-and-A:

Have you always worked in the construction field?

No. Before joining VPCS, I worked in financial services – most recently doing mortgage processing. But there are actually many similarities between what I did then and what I do now; managing a mortgage is a lot like managing a construction project. Both require keeping track of a lot of little details.

What brought you here?

I got a text from my friend Chris Moreno, who’d been working for Van Pelt for a while and was assigned to the Berkeley district. They needed help and he thought I’d be a good fit, so I came in and talked to Mark and Eric [Van Pelt] to see if they agreed. They did, so I made the shift. It’s been great. And I have to admit: I don’t miss the banking world.

You’re a Bay Area native but spent some time living in New York, correct?

That’s right. I grew up in El Cerrito but went to New York City for college and I loved it so much out there that I ended up staying for about ten years. That was before I ever got involved in banking or finance.

What did you do for work in NYC?

After I graduated with a degree in communications, I started interning for MTV. I helped with post-production editing for their TV shows, working out of the MTV offices right on Broadway. It was an amazing job; I just loved it! But I was there when the economy crashed in 2007-2008, which pretty much dismantled our department. I tried to find something else in that field so I could stay in New York, but there were so many people out of work and the city was so expensive, I ended up coming back to California, which was the right thing for me at that time. But it was an adventure while it lasted.

Did you have any fun brushes with celebrities while you were at MTV?

I did get to meet Betty White once, which was pretty cool. She was in the studio to do some interviews about a project she was working on. We all got very excited and crowded around the office she was in just to see her. We even got to chat with her for a minute; she was really nice. But I didn’t ask for an autograph – I didn’t want to be that guy.

Speaking of being a good guy, tell us about the volunteer work you’ve done with Habitat for Humanity.

Sure. The most exciting Habitat project I’ve been involved in was helping build a single family home in Fairfield from the ground up. My understanding was that the family it was being built for was living in a really poverty-stricken area of Vallejo where they were exposed to a lot of safety concerns, including gun violence. I was on that job site beginning from the time when the foundation was poured to when the roof went on. It was so fulfilling.

And you’ve also pitched in with food drives, is that right?

Yes. I started helping with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano back in 2017. I’ve also helped my mom, who does a lot of work through her church to distribute food to members of the community, mostly in Richmond. Those are great programs that collect donations of food and funds from corporate sponsors and local companies. Then volunteers like my mom – and me too, sometimes – make sure that food and other resources get to the people who need them.

Tell us about the picture of you finishing the running race.

That’s from an event I’ve done twice called Rugged Maniac, which is basically a muddy 5K obstacle course. There are something like 25 obstacles scattered all around the course, and there’s mud all over the place. I’ll tell you – it’s a really fun experience. That picture shows the time I did it with a group and I was the only one in the group that competed every single obstacle on the course. I was drawn to it for two reasons: first, I’ve always enjoyed running. And secondly, it just looked like so much fun. I believe the Rugged Maniac events were put on hold during Covid, but they seem to be back up and running now.

What did you do for fun while Covid shut so many things down?

I actually took up gardening during the pandemic and I’ve gotten really into it. I have a decent sized yard at home and I use that as a kind of canvas. I play around with a lot of different types of plantings – flowers, vegetables and plants. And I’ve started doing more with fruit. Right now, I have a lime tree, a Mandarin tree, a guava tree and some strawberry bushes. I never thought of myself as someone with a green thumb, but that’s now what everybody says about me. I just love coming home from work and going straight out to play in the garden!

Filing Away: Keeping Bond Documentation in Its Proper Place

Filing Away: Keeping Bond Documentation in Its Proper Place

Nobody knows better than Phyllis Silverstein the staggering amount of documentation that’s tied to a school bond program. Since she joined us in 2018, she’s been one of our key team members whose job it is to keep things running smoothly in the San Rafael City Schools (SRCS), where we serve as the program manager (PM) for the $269 million district-wide improvements made possible by Measures A and B, passed in 2016.

Managing a mountain of digital and physical paperwork isn’t easy. But Phyllis makes it look that way. We asked her a few questions about this very important part of her job.

Q: What are the types of documents that are typically associated with a school bond program?

PS: Oh gosh. There are so many. To start with, there are documents related to the specific projects being completed in the district as part of the bond program – so that could be the general contractor files and any documents associated with those, as well as legal documents specific to individual projects. There’s paperwork associated with bids, requests for qualifications and proposals (RFQPs), and materials that advertise the RFQPs, There’s correspondence; meeting notes; drawings and specs we get from the architect, along with the version officially approved by the DSA (the Division of the State Architect); there are close-out documents, including the “as-built” drawings as well as warranties and guarantees; there are mailers and the mailing lists and labels we use to send information to neighborhoods; there are monthly reports that go out to different audiences; and of course there are lots of schedules and plans associated with each project.

Then there are the program-level documents. We place those in our “general” files even if they relate to specific projects. That category includes things like the key logs (such as the Department of Industrial Relations – or “DIR” – project ID number, the project tracking numbers, etc.), school board items, all program-level communications, and documents related to when we’re trying to find vendors.

We need to know exactly where all of those documents are at any time, whether they’re project- or program-related, partly because they’re all part of the public record. Also, since we sometimes apply for grants or state funds, there’s correspondence associated with that. Then, of course, we catalog the final documents for each project completed within the bond.

On top of all that, there are agendas, minutes, and reports associated with each of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) meetings. And a variety of photos that have to be documented whether or not they go into our monthly or annual reports.

I could go on, but you get the idea. In a nutshell, there are many, many documents.

Q: How do you keep track of it all?

PS: Most of it is digital, so it all gets housed on a secure Google Drive, which everyone on the team can access and add to if needed. That includes our client (SRCS’s senior director of capital facilities), the projects’ construction managers, the maintenance department, and others. Patti Llamas and I are the VPCS employees who oversee the drive and she does all of the invoicing, accounting, budgets, etc. So she and I are jointly responsible for making sure all the paperwork in the files gets organized properly.

There’s definitely a trend toward electronic records, but we do also keep hard copies of many of the documents. We find that clients sometimes like to have access to those physical files, so we’re happy to provide those whenever they’re needed.

Q: What happens to all these documents when your work is done?

PS: Eventually, when the program is complete and VPCS has wrapped up our duties as PM, we turn everything over to the district.

Q: Is there any roadmap for how to organize all of this, or did you come up with your own system?

PS: There’s definitely no manual that tells you how to do this, although VPCS has a solid baseline system that we all rely on and adapt to suit each program. Plus, Patti was a huge help when I first arrived on this program; she showed me the ropes. Since then, I’ve developed a few additional tricks that help me stay organized. I’ve created some templates so I don’t have to reinvent every wheel when it comes to core documents related to projects. And I maintain a lot of logs.

Mostly, I try to prepare as much as I can in advance. For example, I can get emails written or paperwork ready ahead of time then fill in the pertinent details at the last minute so we can get things out the door immediately, which is often what’s required in this business. For me, doing that prep is the key to being organized.

I’m a naturally organized person, but even I had to step up my game to keep track of all the documents associated with this bond. It’s challenging, which is part of why I like it. And I know that maintaining orderly files is just one more way to deliver on the VPCS promise of quality and transparency.

March 21, 2022

The (Brain) Power of Knowledge Sharing

The (Brain) Power of Knowledge Sharing

If two heads are better than one, then 50 heads are … well, you do the math. At VPCS, we believe so strongly in applying our collective wisdom to all of our active projects that we’ve operationalized it. Relying on a simple shared chat tool, we have created an open-source knowledge base that’s available to each of our employees as a way of finding answers, verifying approaches and honing skills. Every day, our people turn to one another to tap the wealth of professional expertise that exists on our team. In turn, the proficiency of up to 50 people is applied to all of our clients’ projects.

We sat down with VPCS Principal Mark Van Pelt to learn more about this approach.

What internal communication tools does VPCS lean on most heavily?

Mark: Everybody in the company uses Google Chat. It’s like a huge group text but formatted more professionally. It’s just a great way to share information and tap other people’s expertise for any kind of question that comes up. And in this business, questions come up all the time. Our people are so smart; so talented. So much so, in fact, that they know how important it is to validate their assumptions every now and again. Our internal chat system gives them a way to double-check that the answers they come up with on their own are the best ones. It helps us all work as a unified team; nobody is out on an island by themselves.

What other tools does the firm use for information sharing?

Mark: Email, of course, and there’s the good old telephone. All of our people know they can call me with questions about anything, especially when it comes to estimating. I still carry an entire database of construction prices in my brain! And we currently have two people on staff – Kelli [Van Pelt Jurgenson] and Brian [Cameron] – who have been through the very rigorous CASH School Facilities Leadership Academy, so they’re the ones to ask about procurement through the state. (Plus, we have a few more people preparing to go through the CASH program in the near future, which will give us an even deeper bench of people who will be officially trained in the nuances of public school construction in California.) And of course, Eric [Van Pelt] has always been our resident OSHPD expert on top of all that he knows about K-12 and higher education construction. We just have so much talent on our team that somebody is going to know the answer, whatever the question is. And if not, they’ll know how to find it quickly. Beyond that, we have a few other ingredients in our operational secret sauce that help us stay on the cutting edge, but those are in the vault!

Give us an example of how the process works.

Mark: Well, one of our project managers recently posted a question to the company-wide chat related to the paperwork required for procuring a portable building on a school campus. And right away, there were three or four people giving him specific instructions on how to go about that task. It’s so great – an efficient and effective way to make sure things get done the right way.

How does this benefit VPCS team members?

Mark: Since we’re all on the chats, we can all see every exchange, even when we don’t participate in a specific question-and-answer. So there’s an opportunity for everybody to learn something from each case. Just the other day, I heard somebody say that they were puzzling over something but then remembered they’d seen an exchange about that same topic a while back on our Google Chat. So they went into the chat archives, found the discussion and got the information they needed. So it’s become something of a catalog for us.

How does this benefit your clients?

Mark: Our clients have direct access to one or two people from our team – the PMs assigned to their projects – all the time. But what all of our clients are actually getting is the brain power of our entire team because everyone here is constantly drawing from our larger pool of expertise via these chats. It’s all of our PMs, our CMs, our admins; everybody is on chat every day. In other words, an owner might be paying for three dedicated project managers, but they’ve got nearly 50 people helping to tackle their project’s challenges.

As co-founder of the company, how does it make you feel when you see all that wisdom being shared among the people who now form the VPCS team?

Mark: It’s awesome. We have such an incredibly talented group and when they network, we all improve. I’ve never once seen one of our people make an inaccurate recommendation via chat. I’ve also never once stepped into a chat to say, “Hey, I would do that differently.” First of all, that’s not the kind of manager I am. I believe strongly in leaving people alone when they’re doing the right thing and the client is satisfied. Secondly, even if they’re approaching a problem differently than I would and they’re comfortable with that approach, I’m not going to do anything to change that … unless I see someone about to walk off a cliff. So, to answer the question, it’s really gratifying to see members of our team share what they know. It makes us a better company.

February 15, 2022