K-12 construction Q&A

with Travis Huffman and an Insider’s Look at the Derby School Bond Project


Derby, Kansas voted to support a $100M+ school bond in 2018 that would enhance security and safety, address deferred maintenance issues, provide for growth in a responsible matter, and deliver the needed curriculum to the district’s students. McCownGordon was hired as the construction manager at-risk – the one entity that oversees all aspects of the project and has various construction specialties involved throughout the process. This summer was extremely busy since K-12 construction ramps up rapidly while school is on break. We just turned over three renovated school sites to start the new school year.

Travis Huffman, Senior Project Manager in our Wichita office, shared his insights about the Derby bond progress and more about K-12 education construction.

Travis Huffman-Derby K-12 Construction Q&A
What types of added-value solutions are you delivering to Derby?

Our team provides timely and accurate input to Derby and the design team during both the design phase and construction. During the preconstruction phase of each project, we analyze phasing and scheduling to maximize the new facility needs and reduce student disruption. We also compile a comprehensive budget tracker that allows us to track all 18 projects within the bond at any given time. This allows McCownGordon and Derby to make critical decisions. Because of this, each project can include the desired scope of work within the target budget. Our engineering team analyzes multiple HVAC systems on several schools. This challenges the district standards in order to maximize efficiency and quality, resulting in long-term savings.

What are the unique components of K-12 Construction?

Working in an active school requires early planning. We develop communication and phasing plans which minimizes impacts to the school and ensures students and faculty are always safe. Some work must be completed outside of school hours to minimize disruptions. We accelerated our schedules in Derby this summer to get a huge scope completed while the schools were not in session. This required us prequalifying and scheduling trade partners and material procurement to ensure there were no delays.

K-12 building committees and end users are an important piece of the construction process. We engage them early in the design process to get input and provide updates as design progresses. McCownGordon is proud of the transparent communication we provide to these groups in order to meet their goals of scope, schedule and budget.

What percentage of the bond capacity has been used to date and how are you incorporating economies of scale?

As of today, 18% of the bond has been allocated to completed construction. By having a large number of projects within a single bond, we have strategically bid projects together with the option to keep them separate. This allows McCownGordon’s preconstruction staff to analyze efficiency savings between schools, while also verifying the capabilities of each contractor. This gives us the flexibility to deliver the best product and value to Derby Public Schools.

Derby Schools Construction
What renovation improvement are you most excited for within Derby Public Schools?

Definitely Derby High School! Knowing each elementary and middle school feeds into this single location and all Derby students advance their education in this facility is impactful.

What feature in K-12 building design do you wish you had while in school?

I’ll try not to date myself, but I grew up in the environment with isolated classrooms and little interaction with outside teachers or students. I wish we had the collaboration spaces we build today to be able to learn from different perspectives. In Derby, learning pods have allowed for multiple classrooms to use common shared areas. This allows for not only efficiencies in the learning environment, but also construction cost savings through shared equipment, spaces, bathrooms and other support services.

K-12 Construction-Derby-VDC
How is Stone Creek, the new ground-up elementary school, planning for changes anticipated in K-12 building needs?

Stone Creek was designed and built to accommodate future change. The building layout easily allows for future expansion without impacting the current programming. It also has several features that give the space flexibility; including bubble classrooms to allow for variations in class sizes, collaboration spaces, two libraries and flexible learning spaces.

If you could only pick one, what is your favorite piece of the building process?

Overcoming an unanticipated challenge. It’s rewarding to work and collaborate with a team to find a solution in a difficult situation knowing the impact it could have on the overall project.

What part of your K-12 education influenced your career choice in construction?

Both the middle school and high school underwent major expansions while I was in school.  I was always intrigued by construction. We had the opportunity to tour the jobsites and get progress updates while the work was happening.  The sense of accomplishment and the excitement the community had when the work was completed was a big influence on why I pursued the construction industry. I hope to have the same type of positive impact on students in the Derby schools!

Wineteer School-Derby Construction

Learn more about our other projects.

K-12 Construction Case Studies


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