Green (Pre)K-12 Design and Construction: Thoughts from the Field

Green (Pre)K-12 Design and Construction: Thoughts from the Field

Green sensibilities are changing the design and construction industries, with new sustainable technologies and innovations getting introduced to project plans at a quickening pace. California schools are adapting to these shifts, driven in part by updated building codes that call for increased levels of energy efficiency, sustainability and safety in public school facilities. Research supports this tilt toward greener practices, as many studies (including this example) have shown a link between environmentally-friendly classroom settings and improved student achievement.

Three members of Team VPCS (Ray Green, Jennifer Gibb and Eduardo Rivera-Garcia) sat down to discuss these trends and how they affect our district clients. The following is an excerpt from that conversation.

On financial planning

Ray: It’s a rare district that has more money than it needs. Part of our job is to explore all the short- and long-term financial implications of various approaches during the planning process. That’s certainly true when we consider green options. For example, heating a new building with natural gas might cost significantly less on an operational basis than heating with electricity, but that choice can lead to state-driven cost impacts when projects don’t comply with the latest green standards. We always work very closely with design and engineering teams so we can provide districts with analyses that incorporate up-front costs as well as operational costs. We want clients to be happy with their new buildings now and still be happy with them decades from now.

Jennifer: We’re conscientious not only about the capital funds that we’re responsible for stewarding, but also the operational impact of the improvements that a district makes. We always try to bring thoughtful options to our district leadership so they can choose.

Eduardo: When it comes to anticipating the coming wave of green technologies and sustainable systems, a big part of our job is pre-empting sticker shock. As Ray was saying, we want to help our district clients plan. We work hard to communicate what the immediate and the 20-year costs might be.

On building relationships

Jennifer: Sometimes, introducing green systems requires bringing in specialized team members such as energy consultants. In those cases, we just fold them into the larger team and forge new relationships, because that’s what we do so well. VPCS always works closely with all parties, whether or not they’re contracted under our purview. There’s always going to be a close integration between energy upgrades and ongoing construction upgrades, so those specialists’ work will overlap with ours. We’re here to ensure that our districts meet their regulatory requirements, regardless of who works on the project.

Eduardo: On that note, we also recognize that it can be difficult for contractors to adjust their way of doing things so that their work complies with green regulations or satisfies green certification programs. But that’s another part of our job that we take really seriously: making sure all team members know how to comply but also why that compliance piece is so critical.

On supporting district leaders

Ray: So much of our role is to get out in front of new green regulations and begin planning for them. That puts us in a better position to make sure our districts are educated on what these requirements are going to be.

Jennifer: That’s right, Ray. Districts might have a general goal of working toward sustainability, but we can step up to provide the analysis that factors into everything: funding strategies, construction techniques, building standards, the whole thing. Then we can have those conversations with district leadership and support them when they’re making those decisions.

On training operational staff

Jennifer: Our team is really thoughtful about including school district staff throughout the design and construction process. Whether it’s making sure they know how to maintain solar panels for peak performance or keeping HVAC systems in good working order. We won’t be on-site forever, so we help get site staff up to speed well before our work wraps up.

Eduardo: I agree, Jen. And that training doesn’t stop with district staff. Some districts have sustainability coordinator teams made up of teachers, students, parents, after-school staff, volunteers, you name it. It’s important to bring everyone up to speed on how new systems and technologies work so they can be actively engaged in the sustainability effort as building occupants.

On incorporating “smart” systems

Ray: Smart controls are a really positive element of this overall shift. I’m talking about automatic systems that manage lighting, temperature, shading, air flow – they’re just fantastic because they help minimize a building’s energy draw based on actual usage patterns of the people who are coming and going. Plus, new AI features help the systems learn and adapt. It’s encouraging to see that the technology is always improving.

On returning to our core mission

Ray: It’s pretty powerful to think about the practical impact these green technologies have on students. I’m talking about improved air quality, more comfortable interior temperatures and gentler lighting – how they combine to create better learning environments, which has a direct impact on student achievement. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to deliver.

Jennifer: Absolutely, Ray. Plus, the kids we’re here to serve are already so naturally sustainability-minded. These green standards that might be harder for leaders or communities to adjust to are tied to concepts that are already so normal to today’s students. They know it’s their future reality. And they’re so tech-savvy already, so they quickly understand how to interpret and interact with energy dashboards and other tools. Through these green infrastructure improvements, we’re able to educate kids on the impact they’re having on the environment and how they’re part of the bigger picture. So sustainable design and construction becomes part of the educational pedagogy we’re here to support. It always comes back to the kids.

May 28, 2024

Program Spotlight: Redwood City School District Measure S

Program Spotlight: Redwood City School District Measure S

We are so pleased to be ramping up in Redwood City, where we’re serving as both program and construction managers for work associated with Measure S, a $298 million bond passed in 2022 by voters in the Redwood City School District (RCSD). This sizeable effort will deliver a number of district-wide facilities improvements and infrastructure modernizations that will benefit RCSD’s 6000+ students across 12 elementary school campuses.

A Comprehensive Responsibility. In addition to being awarded the program management (PM) assignment to oversee all work that will fall under the Measure S umbrella, VPCS was also named as construction manager (CM). “It’s such an honor to be given 100% of both the PM and CM duties for a single bond,” said VPCS’s Ben Kerr, who will serve as RCSD program manager. “This district felt very confident that we could provide not just the level of technical expertise they needed but also bring our well-known reputation for successful community engagement.”

A Blue Ribbon Team. While Ben Kerr will guide the RCSD team in his capacity as program manager, he will be well supported by VPCS leaders and colleagues. Director Mike Van Pelt will serve as managing founder, Vice President Eric Van Pelt will be principal in charge, Vice President Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson will oversee budget development, Director of Business Development Jennifer Gibb will lead all community engagement and outreach efforts, and Angie Ramich will serve as project coordinator. “As a firm, we look at every assignment holistically, not just project by project,” said Jennifer. “Having so many members of the leadership team involved helps us get things right the first time, which is what we insist on and what every client deserves.”

An All-hands Approach. RCSD will receive the same comprehensive, everybody-in type of service that we offer each of our clients. “Regardless of the size or scope of a contract and who’s technically listed on a project team roster, all of us at VPCS know we can reach out to our co-workers to get insights, answers or suggestions related to anything we’re working on,” said Ben. “We have a well-organized system that gives all of us real-time access to everyone else’s expertise whenever it’s needed.”

Getting Things Rolling. We will soon begin working with RCSD on the master plan for Measure S, which will be an opportunity to take a big-picture strategic look at how best to put the bond dollars to work in ways that serve students, staff and community members equally and effectively. “Whenever we work on master plans, we know how critically important it is to ensure that all stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, staff, the school board, the citizens bond oversight committee [CBOC], the neighbors, all the different entities – feel heard,” said Ben. “Part of our job is to get everybody on the same page so we can do what’s best for the whole district.”

Engaging with the Community. VPCS is recognized for our distinct skills in the area of community engagement, and we’re looking forward to getting to know the citizens of Redwood City even better as we fold their preferences into their district’s plans. “No matter what, we’re always here to support communities; to augment what districts are already doing rather than setting aside existing community engagement processes and replacing them with our own approaches,” said Jennifer. “In Redwood City, we expect to get involved with the neighbors and staff in a variety of ways: we’ll be at parent club meetings, town halls, board meetings, CBOC meetings; we’ll go to coffee with principals; we’ll conduct surveys; we’ll send out newsletters. We’ll do whatever it takes to distribute information and gather feedback so that everyone feels informed and heard.”

We are so grateful to the people of Redwood City for trusting us with this very important assignment. We look forward to helping make the built environment in this great district even better and putting Measure S funds to work for the good of the entire community.

April 29, 2024

Meet Mohammed Abu-Mhanna: A Motorcycle Enthusiast with a Designer’s Eye

Meet Mohammed Abu-Mhanna: A Motorcycle Enthusiast with a Designer’s Eye

Mohammed Abu-Mhanna is so much more than a VPCS senior project manager. This multi-talented professional rounds things out with a valuable architectural perspective, international construction and design experience, and an affinity for a certain mode of two-wheeled transportation. Get to know a bit more about our friend Mohammed in this Q-and-A:

Q: When did you join Team VPCS?

A: I started with the company in May 2019 as a project manager. I was first assigned to the team at San Jose Unified School District, which is where I stayed until last year (when the bond ended). Since then, I’ve moved to the Hillsborough City School District, run by Eric Van Pelt, where I’m a senior project manager.

Q: And you’re a trained architect, is that right?

A: Yes. I started studying architecture in Jordan, where I’m from originally, then completed the bachelor’s program in architecture at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I’m also certified as a LEED AP. I worked for several years in the Bay Area for a couple of big U.S.-based architecture firms. One of the biggest projects I worked on as a senior architect was the New Doha International Airport in Qatar, which was the largest construction project in the Middle East at that time.

Q: But you pivoted away from architecture after that?

A: Yes, at least away from working for architecture firms. I moved from California to Dubai in 2009 to work with a general contractor. It was the middle of the Great Recession, and everything everywhere seemed like it had just stopped – especially in construction – except in Dubai. There, things were booming. It might have been the only city in the world where things were still being built. I was assigned by that general contractor to manage a big project that happened to be going up in Jordan, right in my home town. So I stayed and worked on that in Jordan for a few years before coming back to the U.S. in 2017.

Q: How frequently do you draw on your architecture training in your work now?

A: Every single day! I just love architecture, so it’s fun to use that knowledge when I work with the designers and contractors on VPCS jobs. It’s really helpful to know how to read the drawings before construction begins; I can catch things early that we might need to adjust to help avoid change orders. I also like to think of myself as an expert in value engineering, which is really useful as a construction manager.

Q: What originally compelled you to come to the U.S. from Jordan?

A: Well, I first came here to finish my education. Having a degree from the U.S. is always preferable. And second, my sister had lived here for many years before I came, so there was also a family pull. It was such a privilege to be able to join her here; she helped me a lot when I first arrived.

Q: Is she your only sibling?

A: No, far from it. I’m the youngest of seven and the only son. My dad always wanted a boy to carry on the family name, so after six girls my parents got me. Then they stopped.

Q: Your dad got the son he’d been waiting for!

A: Yes. And it meant he could give me the name he’d been waiting to give. In Arabic, the tradition is to give sons middle names that match their fathers’ and grandfathers’ names. It goes like this: the son’s name to the father’s to the grandfather’s and then to the family’s. In my family, that meant I ended up with a pretty powerful name. I’m Mohammed, which is the prophet of Islam. My dad’s name is Moses, the prophet of Judaism. And my grandfather was Isa, which is the Islamic translation of Jesus. So I’ve got all three prophets of the world’s great religions in my name. Sometimes when I say my full name, people ask, “Are you joking?” And I just say, “No. That’s my real name!” But when people familiar with this tradition hear I’ve got six older sisters, they get it.

Q: Do you still have family in Jordan?

A: Yes – my other five sisters still live in Jordan. They’re all married with lots of kids. (Since I’m the youngest, I was an uncle starting when I was only seven years old.) It’s great, because there are a lot of relatives to see when we go back to visit, which I try to do at least every couple of years. My three sons have all gotten to know their cousins in Jordan.

Q: When do you get the opportunity to speak Arabic?

A: My wife and I speak Arabic with our children, so all three of our boys have been raised bilingually. Even though my younger two were born in Jordan, we came to the U.S. when they were only five and six. So they were in English-speaking schools from a very young age and they now speak it beautifully without any accent – unlike me! And of course I speak Arabic with my sister. It’s very important to my wife and me to keep the Arabic language familiar to our children’s ears.

Q: Tell us about this picture of you on the motorcycle.

A: I first started riding a motorcycle when I was finishing my degree at the California College of the Arts. I was working full-time for an architecture firm in the City and also taking a full class load. I’d worked it out with my employer to let me leave the office early to make it to my classes on time. And in San Francisco, the only way you’re ever going to get anywhere with that kind of tight schedule is by motorcycle. So I got myself one and the very first time I rode it, it just got into me. That picture was actually taken when I moved back to Jordan. You don’t need them there, but I missed having one so much that I treated myself. What can I say? I love riding motorcycles.

March 25, 2024

It’s Time for CASH

It’s Time for CASH

In our industry, this is the season of CASH – the Coalition for Adequate School Housing – and its annual conference, an important event for anyone connected to the school facilities sector in California. We’re eagerly gearing up for another powerful few days of inspiration, education and collaboration in Sacramento from February 28 to March 1.

As in years past, VPCS will serve as an enthusiastic sponsor of the 2024 CASH conference. We’re also a premium supporter of the Top Golf event, which is always a lot of fun. Plus, we invite all attendees to stop by our booth (#230/232) on the exhibit floor.

In addition, here are a few other ways VPCS will be involved in this year’s event:

Participating in Educational Sessions. Members of our team will serve as panelists at three different sessions.

  • Vice President Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson will round out a panel of industry veterans to introduce the basics of K-12 facilities leadership in “New to Facilities Leadership? Here’s a Guide.” “We’ll provide an overview for people who may have come to facilities leadership from the educational side rather than from the construction or facilities side,” said Jurgenson. “We want to help people be successful with all aspects of their jobs.” This session was so popular last year that it was brought back for this year’s attendees. Wednesday, 2/28 at 10:45.
  • Jennifer Gibb will help run a clinic on the advantages of the design-build methodology, particularly as applied to early educational facilities for pre-K and transitional kindergarten students. “As facility leaders, we need to be familiar with all delivery methods and the design-build model is a great option for these types of structures,” said Gibb. “In the clinic, we’ll use VPCS’s experience in the Lemon Grove School District to illustrate how this approach can be successfully implemented with Title 5 and Title 22 Regulations.” Pre-K and Pre-School Educational Classroom Design and Title 5 and Title 22 Compliance” will be held Wednesday, 2/28 at 3:45.
  • Jennifer will be back on the agenda on Thursday, 2/29 at 3:00 as a panelist at “Wrapping up ESSER and What’s Next.” This clinic will address the nuances of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds as the program winds down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ll discuss the various questions that people have about how to support their districts once these one-time monies go away,” said Gibb. “There are other funding sources out there and we’ll explore them.”

Celebrating Another SFLA Graduate. Team Van Pelt will be on hand to cheer on our own Mary Fitzpatrick as she graduates from the CASH School Facilities Leadership Academy (SFLA) at a ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. Mary will be the fifth member of our company to complete this rigorous year-long training program – joining Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson, Jennifer Gibb, Brian Cameron and Minh Dao – with Jenny Choi joining the cohort that begins the program this year. (Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson and Jennifer Gibb also both serve as mentors for current and recent SFLA cohort members.) We’re so proud of these dedicated employees whose hard work and commitment to thought leadership help us better serve our district clients.

Supporting CASH Curriculum. VPCS employees help to shape the programs that make the CASH annual conference such a highly regarded source of professional education. For several years, Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson and Jennifer Gibb have both been integral to the development of CASH’s fiscal programming, which speaks to our firm’s depth of expertise that goes well beyond basic construction management capabilities.

We look forward to seeing our friends and colleagues in Sacramento!

February 26, 2024

Here We Come, 2024

Here We Come, 2024

January always delivers an opportunity for fresh starts. At VPCS, we’re kicking off 2024 from our beautiful new headquarters, where we’re gearing up for another year of service to a growing list of California’s K-12 communities. Here are just a few things we’re excited about as we look ahead:

A bigger, better home base. We recently relocated our central offices to a space that suits our growing firm. Still rooted in Fairfield, we’ve moved just up the road to the Busch Campus Business Park at 450 Chadbourne – easily accessible from I-80, I-680 and Highway 12.

Room to gather. The new office expands the opportunities for members of our team to spend time here – to meet, work, collaborate, visit and more. “Now that we have this space, it changes how we can do things as a company,” says Vice President Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson. “It gives us flexibility and keeps us all more connected.”

Access to co-working facilities. Our Busch Campus tenancy affords us privileges at a supplemental space called The Daily Desk, located right next door. This shared work facility essentially serves as an annex to our own offices, giving us access to additional individual workstations, enclosed offices and large conference rooms. “We can use it for staff training or larger gatherings for up to 100 people,” says President Mark Van Pelt. “Anyone in our company can use this space and when they do, they’ll have the latest presentation and collaboration technology right at their fingertips. It’s really amazing.”

A hub for service. Upgrading our headquarters gives us a stronger foundation from which to address all of our clients’ needs. “We’ve always been good at collaborating across teams but having a space that really encourages people to come together helps us serve every one of our districts better,” notes Kelli. “Some of our districts require only three-person teams and others need ten or more of us, but when questions come up for any client we harness the expertise of every single one of our employees until we find the answer. It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

Thoughtful growth. Even as we steadily add new K-12 districts to our client roster and expand our reach into new communities around California, we carefully manage our growth. “We’ve grown both in terms of new districts and in employees over the past few years, but we’re still a family-run, service-oriented business,” says Director of Business Development Jennifer Gibb. “We’re capable of serving the state’s biggest districts but are still honored when asked to support its smallest. We deliver the same quality and integrity, whatever the size of the client.”

Staying true to our core values. Even after 28 years, we know how lucky we are to be in this business that we enjoy so much. Our industry has changed since we opened our doors in 1996, and we’ve enjoyed steady growth because we’ve adapted along with it. Still, we’ve never forgotten that we started out as two brothers with a desire to do things a little differently. Today, we’re a successful ~50-person company that’s recognized around the state as a leader in our field. But our fundamental ethos has never changed. That’s why we look at the start of each new year as a gift and vow, once again, to give all that we’ve got to our clients and their communities all year long.


January 29, 2024

Group Gift

Group Gift

The holiday season is here, bringing with it the simple joys of togetherness, reflection and gratitude. At VPCS, we believe one of the greatest gifts is the opportunity to work with and for a group of talented, dedicated people – and we couldn’t imagine better examples than our employees, our clients and our industry partners. Together, we have the great privilege of making a living doing important work: providing high-quality learning environments for students throughout California. We never take for granted how lucky we are.

To one and all, we wish you and yours a happy, healthy holiday season and we look forward to another year of achievements in 2024.


December 18, 2023

Thank You Notes

Thank You Notes

‘Tis the season for gratitude and we’ve got loads of it. Here, some of us share a few thoughts about what we’re thankful for and all that we have to look forward to. Everyone here at VPCS wishes our colleagues, family and friends a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Patti Llamas: I am grateful for all the wonderful people I work with, including our amazing clients and consultants.  It’s a pleasure to come to work every day. I’m also grateful for my health and for my family, who make me feel safe, appreciated and loved.

Ray Green: I’m immensely grateful for an abundance of work, great clients and incredible co-workers. I cannot overstate how strong our team is and how much fun they are to work with. I also feel lucky to have my dogs, my family, my dogs … and did I mention my dogs?

Melanie Griffiths: I appreciate everyone on my team for their mentorship, support, passion for learning, willingness to help whenever it’s needed and so much more. There are just not enough words to express how grateful I am to each and every one of them. I’m also grateful for my incredible husband, my brilliant daughter and my beautiful home in this amazing state of California. I feel lucky and blessed.

Kevin Wagner: I adore this time of year, marked by the scents of the season and a gentle chill in the air. In my professional life, I am very grateful to be working with wonderful people who truly care about each other and are committed to providing our clients with exceptional service. Of course, my deepest gratitude is reserved for my wife and children, who are constant sources of profound joy and inspiration. They are my greatest blessings.

Christine Scheffer: I’m grateful for all that the VPCS Executive Leadership Team has done to support my interest in honing my professional skills through classes, courses and conferences. They’ve put their faith in me, and I appreciate it. I’m also grateful for family – including our four-legged family members – and the time we get to spend together.

Daniel Stevens: I am grateful to work for a company that supports my professional growth and development. I’m also grateful for my wife; I could not ask for a better friend and partner. As I set my sights on 2024, there is a lot to look forward to but I’m especially excited to see the full solar eclipse that will happen in April!

Mary Fitzpatrick: Health concerns made this a demanding year for me, but I’m immensely grateful to my VPCS colleagues for their steadfast support through it all. Their continuous concern for my well-being is a kindness I will always cherish. I’m also deeply thankful for my wonderful husband, who demonstrated his attentive care and commitment, supporting me in countless ways as I got back on my feet.

Corinne Figuera: There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t appreciate this job. Every person on the VPCS team brings unique traits to the table and I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve made here. I’m also grateful for my family. My kids are my rocks; they’re healthy, thriving, happy and kind and what parent wouldn’t be grateful for that? And of course my dogs, who are always there to greet me when I get home.

Jennifer Kerr: I’m grateful to work with such a great group of people. The VPCS team makes coming to work every day so enjoyable, even when things can get a bit crazy.

Angie Ramich: I am grateful to work with such a wonderful team here at VPCS, to have such great relationships with our clients and to have the full support of the communities we serve. I’ve learned so much this past year from colleagues, partners and workshop leaders and I appreciate all those who have shared their knowledge with me. I’m also eternally blessed to have my spunky, crazy, lovely family as well as the friends who make up my chosen family.

Felicia Silveira: I’m so grateful to VPCS for all the mentorship and advice my colleagues have given me in my first year on this team. Outside of work, I’m thankful for the health of my family, having a warm home to come to at the end of a long day and for my amazing dog, Azula.

Brian Cameron: I’m grateful for our great clients and for my assistant construction managers – it’s fun to see them learn and begin to take on more responsibilities. Also grateful for my parents and close friends, who are so supportive. And for my health, which allows me to pursue the hobbies and outdoor activities that keep me happy and motivated.

Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson: I’m grateful for our VPCS staff and their deep commitment to making schools a better place. I’m constantly surprised by our employees’ dedication and patience. I’m also grateful for my kids, my husband, my dogs, my very old cat, books, podcasts, burritos, wine … and Advil! In the new year, I’m looking forward to spending even more time supporting, training and problem-solving for all my great team members.

Mike Van Pelt: It never ceases to amaze me what a great crew we have. Our people work so hard to serve our clients and help strengthen VPCS and I’m proud to have such an awesome team. This is the time of year to celebrate with family and friends because that’s what it’s all about! I wish all of our employees, clients and partners a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to another great year in 2024.

Mark Van Pelt: This year, like every year since we opened VPCS’s doors, I’m grateful for our amazing clients, our talented employes and the opportunity to go to work every day doing what I love alongside my brother-slash-business-partner. I’ve also got the greatest wife in the world, and we’ve been blessed with a terrific family, which now includes goats, dogs, donkeys and even chickens that provide us with free eggs! I’m a lucky guy.


November 20, 2023

Client Spotlight: Pleasanton Unified

Client Spotlight: Pleasanton Unified

The Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) serves more than 14,000 K-12 students across 16 campuses. And, since 2019, VPCS has proudly served PUSD. The relationship we’ve built over the years with this client exemplifies the close connection we typically make with every district where we work. In Pleasanton, we’ve been given a fantastic opportunity to do what we’re famous for: bringing our A game; doing whatever it takes; doing more than what’s expected; delivering quality and integrity. Below are just a few of the elements of the fruitful connection between VPCS and PUSD.

Solid beginnings. Our relationship with PUSD began four years ago when the board approved our contract to serve as program manager (PM) and construction manager (CM) for the work associated with Measure I1, a $270 million general obligation bond passed by voters in November 2016. Our co-founder, Michael Van Pelt, remembers making the same foundational commitment to PUSD that we make with every client. “We stood in front of the PUSD board and assured them that we’d do everything they need and essentially become an extension of their family, which is exactly what we did,” says Mike, who serves as partner in charge for the PUSD assignment. “By keeping those projects under budget and on time, we were able to meet the needs of that bond and exceed the client’s expectations, which is a way to build trust not just with a district but also with a community,” he adds.

An expansion. The scope of our work with PUSD expanded this year when the district granted us the PM/CM contract for its most recent bond, Measure I, which will bring an additional $395 million worth of improvements to district campuses. According to VPCS Vice President Eric Van Pelt, who manages the PUSD engagement, this latest bond will fund marquee projects. “While Measure I1 mostly covered important infrastructure improvements, Measure I calls for significant deliverables – new theaters, athletic complexes, classroom buildings, transitional kindergarten centers and more – that will help bring the district’s facilities up to the same high level as its academic and athletic reputations,” says Eric. The work associated with Measure I, he notes, will serve the individual school communities as well as the community of Pleasanton as a whole, since the new performing arts and sports facilities will become local assets that everyone can enjoy.

A strong and consistent team. PUSD has come to rely on the VPCS employees who are dedicated to the needs of their district. Eric Van Pelt is at the helm and is very well supported by Senior Project Manager Mary Fitzpatrick, Senior Project Manager Minh Dao, Project Manager Jenny Choi, Project Manager Ben Kerr, Project Assistant Thida On and Administrative Assistant Merry Te. (Project Manager Edward Lee also worked on Measure I1.) It’s noteworthy that we have had zero VPCS team turnover since initiating our PUSD contract in 2019, which is extremely unusual in our industry – though not that unusual for Van Pelt teams. In the coming months, we will likely add to this roster to accommodate the increasing demands of the work brought on by Measure I. “I can’t say enough good things about the team we have in place in Pleasanton,” says Mike. “Every single one of them just does a fantastic job.”

A client commitment to collaboration. At the heart of our relationship with PUSD is a stellar team of professionals on the client side. We work very closely with every level of district leadership, integrating fully with their strategic and administrative operations. “PUSD is just a fabulous client with a very clear vision, which creates a solid platform for us to do what we need to do,” reports Eric. “It’s also a bonus that several people we report to are very knowledgeable about construction, which allows them to be even further engaged and adds to the collaborative spirit.”

An involved community. The citizens of Pleasanton are at the heart of what we do in their district. When they said yes to Measure I1 in 2016, it was the first time in 20 years that a local school bond had passed. Then they said yes once more to Measure I in 2022. The fact that VPCS is overseeing both of these bond programs is a responsibility we take very seriously because we understand the kind of impact facilities improvements can have on an entire city. Plus, we know the people of Pleasanton are counting on us to be good financial stewards of their bond funds.

Our legendary practice of going above and beyond. Every day with every client, we lean on our tried-and-true “whatever it takes” philosophy. One example of how we’ve applied that philosophy in Pleasanton occurred during the early months of COVID-19. We’d just begun our district-wide Measure I1 efforts when the pandemic forced school closures. “Since construction projects were allowed to continue, we took the closures as an opportunity not just to keep working but to accelerate our pace since we could work on totally closed campuses,” recalls Eric. “We really pushed the gas pedal and shortened the time frame on just about every one of our PUSD projects. That meant a budget surplus for the district, which allowed them to do a few more projects with the Measure I1 funds.” Eric is also fond of recounting the story of when data cables were inadvertently cut by a worker at one of PUSD’s schools two days before students were scheduled to return to campus in September of this year. “All of a sudden, there was no internet or phone connection; it would have been impossible to conduct school business,” Eric explains. “But our team rallied and we spent about 30 straight hours on Saturday and Sunday literally hooking up data cables and making sure they worked (which was not at all in our scope of business) – all so those students and staff could come to school Monday morning and find a functioning communication system.” All in a day’s work for the PUSD team. Eric sums it up best when he says, “It’s just about giving the kids what they deserve.”

October 30, 2023

Meet Felicia Silveira: Woodworker, Paddleboarder and VPCS-er

Meet Felicia Silveira: Woodworker, Paddleboarder and VPCS-er

Assistant Project Manager Felicia Silveira is one of the newest members of our company roster and is already proving herself to be an enormously valuable addition to Team Van Pelt. Beyond her professional skills, Felicia possesses a natural curiosity to learn – both on and off the job. Learn more about this rising VPCS star and some of her many talents in this conversation:

Q: Which VPCS projects are you working on these days?

FS: Right now I’m on our projects in Napa, Calistoga and Santa Rosa. As an assistant project manager, it’s my job to do a little bit of everything on any given day. I’m also directly involved with things like documentation flow, getting quotes and coordinating with our vendors.

Q: How have you adapted to the job since you came on board?

FS: It’s been great. Every day brings new tasks and new challenges; no two days are exactly alike and there’s always a lot going on. But it’s such a team-oriented environment that we all feel very well supported. Everyone just steps up to do whatever they can to help.

Q: Your degree is in business. How do you use that expertise in your role as an assistant project manager?

FS: I’ve always been interested in the STEM fields. When I was in high school, I even imagined a career in medicine, but the idea of all those years in school – and the student debt that would come with it – was a bit overwhelming. So by the time I got to college [at Sonoma State], I realized that a business degree would give me the flexibility to pursue a career in almost any industry. And the more I studied business, I found I really loved it. I’m fascinated by how organizations and systems work. Now, through my work at VPCS, I’m able to apply all that knowledge every day. Everything about construction and program management is process-oriented. Plus, I really rely on my accounting skills!

Q: Tell us about your family connection to K-12 facilities management.

FS: My dad is a facilities director; he’s been in facilities leadership roles in a couple of different Bay Area school districts for several years. He also used to work as a general contractor and I would tag along with him to job sites when I was a kid, so I’ve always been around construction. I think my early exposure to it made me naturally interested in it. I also really like the culture of the construction industry. Plus, my mom has always worked in accounting, so I guess you could say I’ve continued in both of their footsteps. Everyone always says, “I’m not going to be like my parents,” but then you grow up and realize … well, here I am!

Q: Did your parents gently push you toward this line of work?

FS: Not at all, but both of them pushed my sister and me toward getting college degrees. As immigrants, they felt strongly that we take advantage of the opportunities that were outside of their reach when they were growing up.

Q: Where were your folks born?

FS: They both immigrated from Portugal. They actually came from the same village on the same island, but they didn’t get to know each other until they were both in the U.S. years later. My dad came to the States with his whole family when he was three years old but my mom didn’t come until she was 19. She just came for a visit, but then met my dad and the rest is history.

Q: Did you speak Portuguese at home growing up?

FS: We did. My grandparents only spoke Portuguese and several of my older relatives still speak it, with only very limited English. So it’s a little awkward for my fiancé when we attend large family gatherings, because everyone will default to Portuguese – telling stories and laughing hysterically and he has no idea what’s going on. We’re getting married next summer, so he still has some time to learn a bit of the language before wedding toasts are made!

Q: Describe the photo of you at the woodworking table.

FS: That’s when I was applying a mix of stain and wood conditioner to a couple of reclaimed beams that my dad and I salvaged to create a fireplace mantel. Woodworking was something I picked up during the pandemic when there wasn’t anything to go out and do. I just love the challenge of it and I can do it right in my backyard. Mostly, I’ve been focusing on refinishing different types of furniture. It’s fun to work with reclaimed pieces, especially given how so much furniture these days is made to be basically disposable. There’s something really beautiful about taking an older piece that just needs love and knowing how to restore it to something that can have a long life again. My next challenge is learning how to use a miter saw. I bought one – now I just need to figure out how to unlock it and start using it! I do call my dad every now and then if I get stuck on a project that he’s not working on with me. And, in a pinch, YouTube is a great alternative.

Q: And you’re paddleboarding in the photo of you on the VPCS website’s team page, correct?

FS: Yes – that was taken on Barton Creek in Austin, Texas. I’m crazy about paddleboarding. In fact, I consider the most important thing on our wedding registry to be the inflatable paddleboard that we hope to get so we can take it in the car and go anywhere! Even our dog loves to paddleboard. I picked up the sport when I first moved to Sonoma County for college. There’s just so much access to nature here that I didn’t have growing up in urban San Jose. So my fiancé and I love taking advantage of everything that’s close by – rivers, beaches, forests, all of it. It all sparks joy.


September 25, 2023

Ready for Back-to-School

Ready for Back-to-School

Summertime is anything but lazy in the world of K-12 construction management. The weeks spanning the end of one school year and the start of the next tend to be the busiest for us. It’s when we kick things into high gear and tackle projects of every size without worrying about disrupting the important work of our clients’ bustling campuses while school is in session. The harder we work during the summer, the more campus improvements get completed by the time students and staff return to school in the fall.

The summer of 2023 was no exception. In addition to the support we provide clients planning for future improvements, we’ve been busy on many active sites in recent months. Here are a few snapshots:

Berkeley Unified School District. The Berkeley team wrapped up several projects by summer’s end. They put in new windows at the Adult School, painted at Thousand Oaks Elementary School, repaired damages on the Emerson Elementary façade and completed the first phase of work on the Berkeley Technology (“B-Tech”) Academy CTE project, as shown in the photo above. (The second phase of the B-Tech project is now underway.) Project Manager Eduardo Rivera-Garcia noted that small modernization projects like these always come with surprises, but the team was ready for them all. “Our contractor and design team on the B-Tech CTE project were great about communicating in a direct, expeditious manner to find solutions for unforeseen challenges – all with minimal impact to the project allowance,” said Eduardo.

Windsor Unified School District. Team VPCS has been busy in the North Bay this summer, finishing some important work in time for the new school year in Windsor. Notably, the new two-story portable replacement building at the Cali Calmécac Language Academy now offers 14 classrooms, fresh paint, a new play area and two shade structures. Plus, new roofs, gutters and downspouts can now be found at Windsor High School and Windsor Middle School. Our team also assisted with the facility master plan update to support the bond that the district plans to put on the ballot in the fall of 2024. We completed the new two-story building under budget and within our construction schedule, even though we were up against supply chain issues and weather events that could have delayed our construction timeline. Our long-time partners at Arntz Builders contributed immensely toward the success of this project. We also commend VPCS newcomer Project Engineer Aaron Brazier, who came onto the team with an enthusiastic willingness to dive right in.

Piner-Olivet Unified School District. In this Santa Rosa district, we put the finishing touches on a handful of projects in time to welcome students back to school this fall. We oversaw IT upgrades throughout the district, replaced the roof at Northwest Prep Charter School and completed the modernization of Olivet Elementary School’s multi-purpose room.

Wright Elementary School District. VPCS spent the summer leading the effort to replace the roofing and HVAC mechanical systems at Robert L. Stevens Elementary School in Santa Rosa – one of the firm’s greatest accomplishments of the season, according to Senior Project Manager Brian Cameron. “We came into the project with virtually no input on design or procurement, but worked closely with the contractor, architect and client to ensure that the school would have HVAC and power by the start of school,” said Brian. “When we ran into supply chain issues with the HVAC units and some of the required electrical panels, our team worked together to come up with a contingency plan to make sure the R.L. Stevens students could return to school with a fully functioning facility.”

East Side Union High School District. Of our many active ESUHSD projects, two were completed this summer: site utilities fire service work at Mt. Pleasant High School (part of a district-wide effort) and renovations to the library/multi-purpose room at William C. Overfelt High School. Additional projects that we kicked off and are still underway include the performing arts building at Piedmont Hills High School, modernization efforts in Building 500 at Mt. Pleasant High School, the Building K modernization at Oak Grove High School and the site utilities fire service work (now 75% complete) at Oak Grove High School. According to Project Assistant Evelyn Te Policriti, “It takes a village to make these projects come to fruition. Our ESUHSD construction management team is dedicated to working hard to ensure that the client is happy and satisfied,” said Evelyn.

Atwater Elementary School District. Senior Project Manager Mary Ann Duggan reported that her team has completed work on Juniper Elementary School, a new 10-acre, 600-student campus that is now ready to welcome students after an 18-month construction period. The $34.2 million effort delivered 26 classrooms; new administration, library and multi-purpose buildings; play and shade structures; a track and field; parking lots and off-site traffic and pedestrian features. Mary Ann credited the project partners for their good work, including CT Brayton & Sons (general contractor), Meehleis Modular Buildings, Teter Architects & Engineers, United Inspections, KI (furniture) and Miracle Play Systems (play structures).

Pleasanton Unified School District. Our team in Pleasanton maintained a steady pace this summer, completing approximately $12 million worth of projects as part of the $395 Measure I-1 bond passed in November 2022: roofing and HVAC replacements at four sites; room upgrades at Pleasanton and Harvest Park Middle Schools; new fencing and signage at Lydiksen Elementary School; exterior wall waterproofing at Hart Middle School and exterior painting at Donlon Elementary School. The team also started multiple other projects throughout the district that are close to completion. Project Manager Jenny Choi, who helps run VPCS’s efforts in Pleasanton, said, “It feels great to know we created a plan for summer construction and executed things so well. Minh Dao and Ben Kerr did an especially great job picking up pieces and managing unforeseen details around the district all summer, while Thida On and Merry Te provided a lot of support as well.”

Napa Valley Unified School District. Our Napa team has been busy planning the first few projects that will move forward as part of the American Canyon Measure A2 bond program that passed last November. These initial projects will include exterior improvements at two elementary schools, a new track/field for the middle school and new construction and modernization of existing buildings at an elementary school. Project Manager Jennifer Kerr praised all members of her team, singling out the great work of the newest member, Project Engineer Felicia Silveira. “Felicia started with us this spring and has quickly gotten the hang of things, already running some of our smaller construction projects. We appreciate all of her hard work,” said Jennifer.

Winters Joint Unified School District. Work was completed this summer on the new state-of-the-art Winters High School Physical Education and Music Building, which features all-new equipment and spacious classrooms designed to inspire excellence in the fields of PE and music. A grand opening and special ribbon cutting ceremony was held earlier this month, attended by community leaders, educators and students.

Palo Alto Unified and Washington Unified School Districts. Once school construction projects wrap up at the end of the summer, the last critical piece of the process is moving into new or renovated spaces. From mapping out what goes where to ensuring teachers’ classroom layouts match their preferences, move coordination is a bit of an art form – and it’s just one more service we provide, whether or not we’ve overseen the construction itself. Project Assistant Melanie Griffiths, who has become our resident move coordination expert, worked with Business Development Coordinator Jake Jurgenson and Asset Manager Scott Marshall to support move-in efforts in Palo Alto. Melanie also did the pre-move planning for moves on behalf of Washington Unified, where Brian Cameron, Project Assistant Angie Ramich and Director of Business Development Jennifer Gibb handled the day-of duties.

The VPCS home office. As project teams stayed busy in the field, our headquarters staff kept things running smoothly on behalf of all of us. Operations Manager Christine Scheffer oversaw the annual employee review process, navigating a complex web of individual work schedules to coordinate reviews, while Operations Assistant Corinne Figueira handled the numerous details related to our upcoming office move. (More details on the move to come.)  Everyone at VPCS is indebted to our home office crew for their ability to keep our entire company in top working order, every season of the year!


August 28, 2023