CPN honors extraordinary teamwork in Cox Mill High School project

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by Bea Quirk

The Construction Professionals Network of North Carolina (CPN)presented its 2010 Star Award for projects over $10 million to Cox Mill High School in Cabarrus County at its twelfth annual conference at the Marriott Grande Dunes Resort.

“The project was significantly important to the community and was executed very well,” explains Michael Schiftan, who chaired the Awards Committee. “We look at a matrix of issues, such as cost, scheduling, sustainability, community impact, complexity and synergy among CPN members.”

The Star Awards are presented to recognize and promote professionalism and excellence in star quality projects.

Teamwork is always an important factor in the success of any construction project. But the companies that collaborated on Cox Mill High School agree the teamwork was extraordinary.

“This job could be used as a model of how to get along with each other, be productive, produce a great facility and all remain friends during the process,” says John (Ricky) Adkins, executive vice president of Winston-Salem-based New Atlantic Contracting, Inc., the general contractor.

Todd Berg, vice president of Morris-Berg Architects, agrees. “It was one of those projects where everything clicked and, you hate to see it end. Relationships were complementary, not confrontational. I wish every project would go so well.”

Says Dwayne Rakestraw, senior project manager for New Atlantic, ““We had a little hiccup here and there, but it was just a fun project to do. I would have liked to have gone to this high school.”

The team members were motivated by two main drivers: an aggressive schedule that required the school be ready for the start of the 2009 school year and an unforgiving budget that pushed the team to do whatever it took to bring the cost down without sacrificing quality.

Both goals were achieved with flying colors. The school was designed and built in 28 months with no prototype design to rely on. The per-square foot cost of $140.12 was the least expensive high school bid in North Carolina in 2007. The original goal was to spend $152 per square foot; the state average in 2007 was $166.

The total cost of constructing the two-story, 232,460-square-foot building was $32.5 million, $4 million under budget.

“It was a delicate balance between quality and cost,” Berg comments. “The building is designed to last 50 years with 1500 adolescents using it – that’s a hard life. So we had to make sure the materials were durable. We stayed involved throughout the construction process to make sure no corners were cut.”

Morris Berg had previously done two high school renovations/additions for Cabarrus County Schools, on-time and on-budget. The Charlotte-based firm hit the ground running with innovative approaches. To meet the short timeline, site work design began while the school board was still negotiating the land purchase, and the dirt began moving just days after the deal closed.

Even the unexpected annexation of the land by the City of Concord didn’t put a hitch in the process. The school was still being designed as the site work went on.

Concord building officials actually contributed to keeping construction on schedule. “Their cooperation was significant,” Berg observes. “We used a phased permitting process so we never had to stop work waiting for an approval. If we had used a typical process, we would never have met the schedule.”

Charlotte-based Hoopaugh Grading, LLC got the project off on the right track. Considering an aggressive 90 calendar day contract schedule, Hoopaugh completed the erosion control, clearing and grubbing, and moved 375,000 cubic yards of dirt on the 65-acre site with time to spare. Although not a requirement of the contract, managing partner Brian McManus said, “We used bio diesel fuel to operate all our equipment.” Hoopaugh also used the latest in GPS technology for the final shaping of the site. “This allowed for very accurate grade management,” said McManus, “which resulted in a smooth site hand off to New Atlantic.”

Then New Atlantic stepped up to the plate. The general contractor had never worked with the Cabarrus school system before. While some of the nearly 20 bidders for the project said the schedule was impossible, Atlantic knew from experience – 85% of its business has been building schools – it could be done. Project supers coordinated the activities of up to 200 workers on site at one time. The actual construction took 14 months. Says Rakestraw, “We had great subs from the start.”

”It was a dream team,” notes Daniel Caylor, III, vice president of Besco Electric Corp., Huntersville. “We had a very good owner, and there was a lot of open communication.”

Even after the actual construction began, Morris-Berg and the school board remained closely involved. “Our folks worked well with the architects,” Adkins recalls. “”The pricing was accurate, and we both made sure the school got good value for its dollars.”

The Cabarrus County Board of Education had not built a high school for several years and wanted to develop new design concepts and standards. So it created a liaison committee of three school board members, one of them a project manager and another a general contractor. Committee member Cindy Fertenbaugh remembers that at one point, her house “was covered with architectural drawings.”

A school system employee, C.J. Intinoli, had an office on the construction site and walked it daily.

Berg welcomed the input. “We saw it as a plus. They were clear about their vision and what they wanted. We acted to bridge the gap between the elected officials and the contractor.”

“There was a lot of good communication back and forth,” Rakestraw says.

Adds Fertenbaugh, “Everyone was open and accommodating during the entire design process. Morris-Berg’s greatest attribute was that they listened and picked up on nuances. They attended our meetings where they weren’t on the agenda to see what they could learn about programs that would affect the design.

“They taught us along the way, testing materials and showing us what would work and not work. They demonstrated that graffiti could be washed off certain materials and that some materials could be washed with non-toxic cleaners.”

The liaison committee continued to push Morris-Berg and New Atlantic to keep bringing costs down, even in the face of design changes. When Berg told Fertenbaugh they couldn’t add a multi-purpose room, she told him, “You’re smart. You’re creative. Find a way. We need to do more with less.”

The change Berg came up with included innovative ways of using under-utilized space with and combining different programming needs.

The school system was so happy with Morris-Berg’s work that they used the firm to design two new middle schools now under construction.

The school features steel-framed construction with light gauge metal framing and a brick exterior. There are two wings, a two-story classroom and administrative wing and another designed for convenient after-school use, such as cultural arts and athletics. They are connected by a large, naturally-lit lobby that serves as the school’s main entrance.

The school was not built to LEED-certification standards, but does include a number of sustainable features such as a reflective roof, waterless urinals, enhanced bio-detention ponds and rainwater harvesting for the greenhouse.

Other projects considered for the annual Star Award were Gateway University Research Park – Research Building #1 in Greensboro and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Charlotte.

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