by Kathie Sutin
Some projects are work of art. Others are works of love. The new Christian Brothers College High School on Highway 40 in Town and Country is both. The stunning 250,000-square-foot building is replete with many head-turning features including:
* Twin turrets and a stone archway in a gothic entry,
* A spacious two-and-a-half story lobby topped by a barrel vault ceiling,
* A beautiful chapel where radiating blue panels emanating from the cupola above,
* An expansive, elegant dining hall,
* “Outdoor rooms” in the front and back of the center of the building,
* An inspiring art room with a clerestory window,
* A state-of-the-art performing arts center, and
* An 1800-seat gymnasium.
And, then there’s the technology.
CBC is one of the first wireless high schools in the St. Louis area. Each student is required to have a laptop computer that the teacher can access and use as a teaching tool. Interactive whiteboards in each of the 52 classrooms allow teachers to project an image from a computer onto the touch-sensitive board. The teacher can then navigate the Internet by simply touching the board.
Beyond the beauty of the building and its cutting edge features, the project was a work of love for another reason—many owners of companies working on the project are CBC alumni. To them, the project wasn’t just another beautiful building going up. It was a link to their youth and an opportunity to give their all for their alma mater. Because the all-boy school is private and doesn’t have to follow the bidding process that public schools must follow, officials were able to negotiate contracts with 17 of the 50 contractors on the project.
“We have an enormous amount of alums involved in this project and that took a little bit of coordination, “John Hutchison, CBC director of finance and operations and the owner’s rep, said. Early on, the school indicated that if a company had a “great interest” in the project “we might sit down and talk with you,” he said.
One example was the concrete work. “Vee-Jay Cement is one of the largest flatwork companies in the country and is renowned for their work, and one of the owners is an alum,” Hutchison said. “Why would we waste everybody’s time with the bidding process? We went directly to them, negotiated a fair price, and they came to work for us.”
In other instances, special handling was requires. “If you have two major pavement companies in St. Louis that are interested in doing paving for the school they went to, how do you keep that fair?” Hutchinson asked.
The fact that owners of many local contracting companies are alums was intimidating to some contractors who assumed the alumni’s company would get the work, Hutchison said. But contracts that were not negotiated were put out for bid.
“We wanted to assure everyone in the community “you’re not wasting your time,” he said. “If it goes through a bid, we’re going to fairly look at you if you went to CBC or you’re from out of state.” With retired alumni builders “with great information on what things should cost,” on the planning committee and negotiated contracts, the process worked well, Hutchison said. “It’s kept the cost down considerably. It’s worked out tremendously. We’ve gotten really good bang for the buck.”
After the project got underway, something about it drew the affection of most of team members. “Even if they weren’t alums, they were enthusiastic about the job,” Hutchison said. “The morale on the job was really high. Everybody liked working with each other. That’s not always true.”
Hutchison should know. In addition to the hats he wears with CBC, he is a principal in the Sextant Group, a consulting company that also worked on the project.
Mackey Mitchell Associates had the daunting job of coming up with a design for a stately building [t]hat would tastefully blend tradition with cutting edge facilities, a building that would also symbolize the school’s 153-year history.
School officials had some “musts”. They wanted a separate chapel big enough to hold 300 and a cafeteria that could hold 1,000 young men so an all-school mass didn’t mean using the gym.
To determine what should go into a state-of-the-art school to meet future needs as well as present needs, officials researched technology and formed a steering committee to seek input from teachers, parents, alum and students. With 9,000 alumni living in the area, and parents and students wanting to weigh in on what the new building needed, “everybody had an opinion about what should be done,” said Rob Staggenborg, director of communications for the school. In contrast to the high tech features, officials wanted the new building to reflect the school’s long history and its traditions.
“Architecturally, we tried very hard to make this building mirror the Clayton campus and not lose the school’s identity,” Hutchison said. “We weren’t trying to come up with a new identity.” “We studied carefully their current campus (in Clayton), their current building and its architecture, and tried to bring a feeling for what tradition they already have to the new site,” said John Guenther of Mackey Mitchell. Guenther’s father, now deceased, and uncle are CBC alumni.
For Guenther, the project took on an added dimension as a personal memorial to his father. To preserve the school’s link with the past, turrets reminiscent of those at the Clayton Road building, which had been the school’s home for 82 years, were incorporated into the design, stained glass windows from the old building were used in the new one, and statuary was moved to the west county location.
“If someone from the class of ’48 comes here, they see a lot of things that remind them of where they went to school,” Hutchison said. Not everything suggested for preservation could be used, however. An idea to take the old building’s front doors and make them the library doors on the new building had to be scrubbed. “By the time you rehabbed them, they would be twice as expensive, and they wouldn’t really fit in architecturally,” Hutchison said.
“Wonderful outdoor courtyard spaces were formed by the old buildings on the Clayton campus,” Guenther said. The idea was used in the new building “with a simpler approach,” he added.
The building is an H footprint, and in the entry quadrangle, the building forms an outdoor room, Guenther said. “It’s just as important to form outdoor rooms. On the other side of the H crossbar is the chapel. We call the outdoor room on that side the chapel quadrangle.”
Even the stone work was designed to replicate the old building. There was a lot of ornate stonework, said Brian Grant, president of Grant Contracting Co., Inc. “Piecing all the stonework together was a challenge, but we like that.” Grant’s father is a CBC alum.
For Andy Goldkamp, project manager for Guarantee Electrical Co., and a CBC alumnus, two things made the project extra interesting: lighting and controls. “We had over 100 different fixture types on the job and some pretty complex electronic dimming systems for them,” he said. The lights included can lights, chandeliers, wall sconces and indirect light fixtures. “You’ve got so many different spaces and uses that you have a lot of different kinds of fixtures.
Athletic lighting is going to be different from locker room lighting and theatre lighting and dining room lighting and office lighting,” he said. “We have a dimming system in the chapel, one in the dining room, one in the theatre lobby, the performing arts room and in the theatre itself.
We also have one in the TV studio. So, in addition to all the different types of light fixtures, we had to make sure they were compatible with the dimming systems that they were going to work with. “One of the unique things about the job is that we are building an entire campus from the ground up. We’ve done parts of campus work before—a gymnasium, maybe a theatre, maybe an athletic facility but this one was neat in that we’re building the entire thing—offices, classrooms, theatre, dining area with full kitchen facilities and a full athletic facility. To have all that combined—all those different kinds of construction in on project—was pretty neat.”
Guarantee did the rough-in for the data cabling and other technology, and Sonacom, Inc. was the technology contractor on the project. “We did the conduit in the walls for those systems, but they pulled the wire and connected their servers and different pieces of technology equipment,” Goldkamp said. Sonocom handled the technology implementation including the network, the phone system, security, CC-TV, the audiovisual, those in the classrooms, the wireless and the computer room.
CBC is the first high school in the St. Louis area that is totally wireless for voice and data, said Michael McNeil, president of Sonacam. While other local high schools use some wireless technology, CBC has “gone to a different level with the integration of technology into the curriculum and the network itself,” he said. “It’s one thing to put in a bunch of equipment. It’s another to build your curriculum around it to use it. CBC is the first one to really go to that extent.”
The project’s main challenge was the brisk 15-month design-build schedule to finish the building before classes began Sept. 2. To make the tight schedule work, Alberici, the general contractor, did a lot of preplanning, said Robert Hartwell, project manager for Alberici. “Alberici is the only general contractor in town that has its own fabrication shop,” Hartwell said.
“The only way they could make the schedule was to have Hillsdale, our fabrication shop, do the fabrication. We also employ ironworkers, and we erected the steel ourselves. That was a big plus. It saved six to eight weeks on mill orders. It’s a big, big advantage.” Hartwell called the $40 million CBC project “by far the biggest masonry job I’ve had.”
To help with scheduling, “we ran up all the load-bearing masonry walls ahead of time so when we came through with everything else, they were already in place,” he said. “They were 30 to 40 feet tall so we had to brace them and then we came through with our structural steel. “The main corridor—the academic, the administrative and the cafeteria area—has a structural steel frame and then masonry veneer. Those were the biggest areas to do. The gymnasium and the theatre are all masonry, and they’re load-bearing so we ran those up ahead of time so we could complete the main corridor.
“All the mechanical services are below the cafeteria so we tried to get that up and running as soon as we could and tie it back through the administration building B and where the chapel is and then to Building A which is at the far south end.” “Design stayed one step ahead of construction, and it’s worked out well,” Hutchinson said. “The barrel vault you see when you walk in was an afterthought. As the steel package was coming together, we realized we had this void and we could just do a very nice barrel vault.”
The start of a project with so tight a schedule was a bit unsettling. “We broke ground May 5, and then it rained for three weeks,” he said with a laugh. That wasn’t the end of Mother Nature’s impact. “It was the eighth snowiest winter,” he added.
For Jeff Budrovich, president of Budrovich Excavating, Inc. the challenge began early.
“Probably our biggest challenge was the rock,” he said. We encountered a lot of rock in our excavation of the sewer lines which nobody knew was there.”
The 24.7-acre site was an estate gifted to the school by an alumnus. The house on the property will remain as a brother’s residences and for entertaining space.
“As close as the rock was to the house, we had to use a breaker which takes a lot longer,” Budrovich said. “Typically you can dynamite or blast the rock out. But it was close to the existing residence, we weren’t able to do that.”
The excavating crew worked seven days a week toward the end to complete the football fields which were “a big part of the scheduling nightmare,” Budrovich said.
Hutchinson praised the construction team for their coordination. “We have some wonderful subs,” he said. “They always had it all planned out very well. If they couldn’t pour something today because it was frozen, they had alternate work ready so they could always keep the crews going.
” Grant Masonry was able to do most of the building in the winter, which is shocking. They would get a good enough spell to do a block wall, then it would snow on them so they’d go to the basement and work on the locker rooms. The snow would melt, and they’d go back up with the bricks. Alberici did a very good job of coordinating that.”
Grant agreed that the weather was the biggest challenge. “We had one of the worst winters in 20 years, and we had all of the exterior walls to try and get up to keep on schedule. So we had a lot of walls enclosed working inside plastic and being heated,” he said.
“Then, the spring rains hit and that kind of threw things back, too. There were just a lot of walls that had to be constructed before steel could be set and they could start work on the inside. We had multiple crews out there working on the different parts of the project at the same time.”
“We all had that common goal of getting the kids in there on time and it came together pretty quickly,” said Goldkamp. “There wasn’t any in-fighting or anyone trying to hold out. If there was a problem, we worked it out and worked it ou quickly and kept the schedule. When you get that many people working in a confined space with time running out, for everyone to pull together and make the schedule is pretty impressive.”
Grant called the construction team “remarkable.” The owner, the architect, the general contractor and the subcontractors all worked well together, he said. “We got answers when we needed them to be able to stay on schedule. Approvals from the owner were prompt. Everything just flowed real well which was needed to be able to meet a schedule challenge like that.”
Hartwell had another reason the project moved along so well. “Our president, Bob McCoole, is an alum so that helped motivate us,” he said.
CONSTRUCTION NEWS & REVIEW/SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2003