State College HS Project Tour & Construction Phasing Advice

On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, the Keystone Contractors Association partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council Central PA Chapter to provide the construction industry with a tour of the State College High School project currently under construction. The project consists of two buildings, around 660,000 SF of renovated and new construction, with costs estimated around $140 million.


Weather-wise, it was a perfect day to don the safety PPE and walk the jobsite. But first, the fifty-plus attendees sat through a very informative presentation given by Ed Poprik, State College School District; Jeff Straub, Crabtree Rohrbaugh Architects; and, Tim Jones, Massaro Construction Management Services.

The project’s owner, Mr. Poprik, kicked off the presentation. He provided a history of the school’s capital management, which dated well beyond the twenty years he has been at the school (in fact the week of the tour marked his 20th anniversary that he has served as the District’s Director of Physical Plant). He discussed past projects of the district, the aged high school buildings, and the famous referendum vote that residents of the district passed in order for the massive project to proceed.

Next the project’s architect of record spoke. Mr. Straub discussed the referendum, and his firm’s role in the process in assisting the district in getting the community to first understand there was a need for the project and then to engage the community. He then proceeded to highlight some of the sustainable features on the project, as well as explain the LEED certification process. The school set the goal of at least a Silver LEED certification and with that in mind his firm designed to the Gold level to assure they at least reach Silver if by chance some points are not achieved. The project is on pace to receive Gold.

The final portion of the presentation prior to the tour was given by the construction manager, Tim Jones. We all know how important the Owner and Architect are on a construction project, but KCA is a contractor association so we’re going to focus on this portion of the presentation more.

Tim Jones is a senior project manager for Massaro Construction Management Services, a Pittsburgh-based company. Prior to the State College High School work, Massaro was the CM at Penn State University on a multi-year project in the PSU Henderson Health & Human Development Building. This award-winning HHD project consisted of 105,505 SF of new construction and 39,147 SF of renovation construction and the total project cost was a little over $43 million.

Timing of the PSU and State College High School projects were ideal for Mr. Jones to pick up roots in southwestern PA and relocate his family to the State College area. Additionally, the experience of two active educational buildings being constructed with Mr. Jones serving as the project manager was an excellent opportunity for the industry to hear his lessons learned concerning project phasing.

Before jumping right into the subject at hand, first let’s explain construction phasing. For numerous reasons a construction project may have to be broken down into smaller, separate manageable segments or phases. Some projects are phased due to financing and a phase may be completed as money is received from the lender. Another popular reason for phasing is to accommodate an Owner/User Group that still needs to function while the project is under construction. The latter reason was the case for the State College projects to be phased construction.

A college or high school cannot simply close its campus for a few years to complete a mega construction project. When phasing is needed, the General Contractor/ Construction Manager is relied upon to take the lead, and in the case of both the PSU HHD and State College High School projects, Mr. Jones was the point person from the CM firm. Here are some lessons learned from these two phased projects that he shared with the attendees at this week’s tour:

  • User Group Point of Contact – A construction project, regardless of the size, can be a challenge coordinating all the various trade contractors, but the Owner needs to be included too in the project. And this challenge intensifies in a phased project as each phase is sort of a unique project in itself. In the case of an educational setting, there may be dozens of people who are considered the Owner/Client, from professors to administrative staffers to students. To effectively provide input in an efficient manner, it helps tremendously if there is one point of contact to speak on behalf of the User Group. This one User Group contact and the CM will communicate constantly during the duration of the project. Without one contact, the CM could find themselves in a position to receive contradicting input of what the Users need.
  • Meeting Cycle – A consistent meeting schedule should be created and respected by project stakeholders. Constant communication is crucial on a phased construction project on an educational campus to allow for the construction team to understand what needs to happen to respect campus activities.
  • Space Loss Planning– The project team doesn’t live in the spaces that they are trying to relocate or revise. Input from the User Group is critical to this but you need to be mindful that this can be a challenge. Approaching a construction project is stressful for the Users as most often they haven’t been through a significant project that effects their day-to-day responsibilities of educating. One lesson learned was that some of the existing building compression was too much for the Users to really work with. Part way through the construction phase the project needed to add some supplementary temporary trailer space to help accommodate. Owner’s need to carry contingency for phasing in the same way they carry contingency for construction challenges.
  • Coordinate Commissioning & FFE – Building commissioning activities, as well as furniture, fixtures and equipment installation, are to be completed before handing a phased portion of the project over to the User Group. As you can imagine, on a phased project different portions of the same project will reach milestones at different times. These milestones must be communicated and tracked so the project will be ready for the commissioning and FFE stages. A smooth, coordinated process allows the User Group to get into the completed spaces when expected. On a phased project, the CM will be responsible for creating the schedule for moving the User Group around to allow for spaces to be renovated. If a space is completed, yet move in is not allowed due to mechanicals not being commissioned for example, it could have negative ramifications on other phases of the project and could potentially alter campus school schedules.
  • Don’t Under Estimate Temporary Office Location – As mentioned, the User Group must continue operating while the project is ongoing. Educational spaces may be under construction and unable to serve the school, but setting up temporary locations can be a viable solution to keep the school operating. Depending on the project, setting up temporary locations can be the solution to keep a school operating.
  • Summer is too Short – A common statement heard on a school construction project is: “Don’t worry about that now, we’ll do that over summer break.” Well, these summer activities can add up if you don’t keep a handle on this ‘do it over summer’ approach. The school could find itself behind schedule and delay the final move in date if too much work is transferred to summer.

The overall message that came across for a successful phased project is that communication is extremely important. Following this presentation, the attendees were given a lengthy, in-depth walking tour of the State College High School construction project. To view pictures visit:


Author: buildingpa

I am the proud father of three amazing daughters and I'm married to an awesome lady. When I'm not hanging with the family, I'm the executive director for the Keystone Contractors Association.

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