Anatomy of a school construction project

“[Voters] know that it will be a collaborative effort that never stops,” Smith said, reasoning that community leaders have come to trust HCPS for its inclusive process in the construction of new schools like Glen Allen. “They know people are going to come together, and that it won’t just be the architecture firm that makes this happen.”

School construction for the people, by the people

Once funding for Glen Allen High School was secured, school system officials sought architectural firms through a coordinated advertising campaign in print and online. Requests for Proposals (RFPs) were submitted, and decision makers soon were reviewing detailed plans drawn up by firms with experience in school construction and renovation.

HCPS selected a firm, Richmond-based Moseley Architects, in 2007, three years before Glen Allen was scheduled to open.

Building the county’s newest high school wouldn’t take three years—the firm needed time to gather community concerns and incorporate those shared priorities into its final plan for Glen Allen’s design.

HCPS officials and experts from Moseley Architecture hosted a design charrette soon after Moseley won the contract for Glen Allen. With dozens of civic leaders, local PTA members, and residents from neighborhoods near the Glen Allen site, architects invited participants to call out any and all concerns and priorities.

Words and phrases were jotted down for all to see, and architects invited charrette participants to place stickers next to the concerns they considered most pertinent.

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“No one can say anything wrong,” said William Riggs III, vice president for Moseley Architects. “We call it idea mining, because issues emerge that some people wouldn’t have thought of on their own. Bringing people together like that is critical in creating a mission statement for us.”

The charrette, which included input from educational specialists, athletic directors, and HCPS principals, concluded with a detailed analysis of how a large property is whittled down after athletic fields are built, wetlands are taken into account, and room is reserved for parking lots.

“At the end of the day, we have stakeholder consent through and through,” Riggs said.

Webcams were installed at the Glen Allen construction site, providing real-time updates for anyone with an internet connection who wanted to see the building in its various stages of construction. Ed Buzzelli, assistant superintendent for operations, said the webcam was useful until the latter stages of the project.

“Eventually,” Buzzelli said with a laugh, “you could only see the wall.”

Rallying support for a school project that will change a community for generations first requires a shift in expectations among residents who keep a close eye on the drawn-out process, said Mychael Dickerson, executive director of HCPS’s community outreach.

Denny Carter

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