With only a few days of the school year remaining, construction on our campus will soon be a thing of the past for many of you. Instead of a relatively quiet summer, however, the months of June through August will be a mad dash to finish up all of the various projects and to return our grounds to their pristine condition.
For an update on how the improvements are progressing, we recently sat down with Columbus Academy parent and alum Jim Klingbeil ’85, who has overseen the project for our Board of Trustees.
Q: What is your exact role in all of this construction?
A: Technically I’m the chair of the facilities committee as a trustee, a position I’ve served now for four years. I’m in my third term as a trustee, which is unusual, because we wanted to keep some continuity with the project. I’m here quite often working very closely with (Director of Facilities and Grounds) Doug Bennett, working with the budgets and so on.
Q: Why were you chosen for such an important role:
A: My family has been in the real estate business for a long time, so I’ve been involved in a whole variety of apartment and real estate projects. I think that was why I was tagged to do it. The institutional school piece is different for me, but fundamentally so much is similar in terms of budget and time frame. Here we’re very lucky to have a construction manager and team who have been on site for a number of projects over the years. The institutional knowledge they have has been invaluable. We’ve discovered there’s a lot of things – especially underground and in some of the original structures – that are not documented, so having that experience has been immensely helpful.
Q: How long have you been involved in this project?
A: It’s been at least four years since we started planning. That being said, once we decided to go forward it’s been a very accelerated process. This really could have gone over two school years but we compressed it into one… 15 months essentially, which may not seem like an accelerated schedule but it really is. We’re almost 80 percent through it, and it’s caused a lot of logistical challenges.
Q: Has the compressed time frame worked well so far?
A: The total expenditure would have gone up dramatically if we hadn’t locked these costs in. If we had waited and done it over two years, we would have had significant cost creep because the price of materials have increased since we began. It’s been somewhat traumatic to have all this construction but it’s a shorter amount of suffering. If we had gone over a two-year period, I think a lot of people would have been really annoyed with the length of inconvenience.
Q: Have there been any major setbacks?
A: I think it’s gone incredibly well, knock on wood. We had some initial challenges with some underground utilities, partly because it’s an old campus and it wasn’t documented well. I feel like the team – the architects, the construction crew, Doug Bennett’s group – has worked together very well. I’ve been on a lot of construction projects that didn’t go anywhere near this well and weren’t nearly as complex as this. We had very conducive weather this winter so that helped to save us some money and time. We are on schedule for turnover in late August – and some of the areas well before that – so right now we’re looking good.
Q: What’s happening right now?
A: Morris Hall has taken a little longer than expected since we discovered the mezzanine that we decided to expose, but it should be ready by mid-June. The masonry is going up on the north side of Van Syckel, which is the middle school addition. That will be under roof probably in a few weeks and will really dramatically change the courtyard. On the front of campus, the grading site work has begun for the walkway down to the theater entrance as well as for the sidewalks in front of Dennett Hall so that’s all coming together. The dining hall patio has been poured and you can really see that coming together. Personally I think the whole focus of campus is really going to migrate to the dining hall with that patio, the reconfigured courtyard and the back of Morris Hall that is going to be all glass.
Q: Will the Lazarus Courtyard in front of the dining hall really be ready by the end of August?
A: There’s a major hot-water HVAC line going down the center of the courtyard so that is going to push back when we can actually do the final grading and so forth. But the trailers will be gone by early June, and the goal will be to have that courtyard essentially done by August 29. We are exploring very closely whether we should do sod in the courtyard so it’s usable next year and looks better, obviously. In terms of completion, the upper school addition is scheduled to be turned over by the end of this month so it is in final paint, fixtures and carpeting… that one’s really close. The middle school addition is about three weeks behind that.
Q: Any new surprises to share?
A: A positive recent change is that we’ve added a gas fireplace to the dining hall, which will have a gathering nook around it. I think the dining hall will be a place where kids go to hang out and not just eat. We felt like it was worth doing to give some more functionality and warmth to that space.
Q: What would you like to say to the senior class about how they’ve handled this year?
A: I think they’ve handled it very well. I have not heard a single complaint out of my son Otis or his friends. I think they know long-term it’s going to be great for the school. The administrators have gone out of their way to soften the blow – all the seniors signing steel beams, for instance – and I think it’s worked, I really do. It was great that they were able to have the “CA Breakout” a few weeks ago. It was a nice culmination to acknowledge their resilience and to give them a day of fun.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: The construction team has done a really good job. The challenge is going to be this summer, because it’s going to be a very compressed time frame, but they’ve been preparing for it. Also, there was a rumor that Commencement would be held in the gym regardless of the weather. Rest assured, though, that it will be outside in the Senior Quad if the weather cooperates. It’s not going to change the experience of graduation at all except that the post-ceremony reception will be in front of Academy Hall instead of in the courtyard.
Expect more frequent posts throughout the summer as areas are completed and we can provide first looks at our new facilities!