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Reaching Good Stewardship in School Construction
By: Lee Walker and Jeff Bercaw

If there was ever a time when administrators and planners of Christian schools have to be good stewards of funds, it is today.

A slow economy has forced many parents to send their children to public school. Home schools continue to be an alternative to Christian schools. And parents are concerned that once they enroll their children, there will be regular requests for financial assistance to keep the school afloat.

However, this doesn't have to be the case, because there are affordable ways to build these schools that will result in both short-term and long-term savings.

Innovative architectural designs, cost-saving electrical and plumbing systems, and low-maintenance materials are among the features that can result in lower costs immediately and for the life-cycle of the building.

"The key in designing a school is to focus on long-term and short-term efficiencies," said Dan Cook, the principle owner of Daniel Cook Architect, founder of the Building God's Way program, a building delivery system that follows Biblical principles. "By using proper materials and designs, we're able to save clients up to 30 percent when compared to traditional building methods and cut the future maintenance and utility cost by 40 percent."

Cook is a national expert in school design and engineering savings whose firm has won awards for both innovative design and economic soundness. 

When taking a view of the entire structure, its uses, and scheduling, it's amazing how much money can be saved through construction innovation and stewardship techniques for maintenance and utility costs.

Cook said, "In one case, we built a 90,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility adjacent to an existing four-year-old 45,000-square-foot school building. By following a variety of construction and planning strategies, we delivered a structure at less than half the price. The original building cost about $270 a square foot. The new building, twice the size, came in at $107 a square foot. In addition, the utility costs were less than half of the smaller structure even though the larger structure was open seven days a week, while the adjacent school building operated five days a week."

These steps involved a combination of stewardship-based design and the purchase of cost-saving materials that resulted in immediate and long-term efficiencies.

The key is looking at a building as an integrated system, as opposed to a structure made up of independent entities. The bottom line is that a properly planned building will be less expensive to construct and to maintain.

This is not a linear process where the owner hires the architect who hires the engineers who hire additional consultants and then they bid this to general contractors. It is an integrated process where a team comes together to understand the final objectives and together produce a building that meets or exceeds the objectives. This team includes the architect, suppliers, consultants, sub-contractors, general contractor, and, of course, the owner.

The problem with the linear direction is that much is lost in the process and goals that were set between the architect and owner are often not incorporated into the design by consultants down the road.

The following are some important considerations when planning a school:

1. Large Rooms in the Center
It is important to place large, high-volume rooms (gyms, cafeteria or cafetoriums) in the center of the overall structure. Classrooms should be on the perimeter of the structure. This design will save significantly on the construction, operations, and maintenance of the building since the tallest walls are now on the interior of the structure and the smaller walls are on the exterior. 

Large interior walls have no heat loss or heat gain from the exterior, saving on utilities year-round. Walls normally constructed of masonry or pre-cast concrete can now be done with steel studs. 

Classrooms will be on the exterior that allows for great natural lighting, which has shown in study after study to be beneficial to the learning process. This one item can save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of the building and improve on the educational experience in the process.

2. Plumbing
It is important to install low-water volume lavatories with automatic shut off and no-water urinals as a way to save on water consumption. While these may cost more upfront, the savings on water usage will pay for itself within a short period of time.

Another simple strategy is to have one water source for banks of lavatories. This saves on labor and hardware involved with having separate water lines for each lavatory. Many times, these fixtures have their own individual hot water heaters, which give instant hot water while saving on utilities and costs of hot water plumbing and circulation lines.

3. Gymnasium
The perimeter walls around gyms are subject to abuse from balls, sneaker treads, etc. Under normal circumstances, this requires costly maintenance with painting and buffing on a regular basis.

We recommend installing racquetball-like panels on these walls in the first 8 feet of height. These panels require virtually no maintenance and have aesthetic appeal. From 8 feet to the ceiling, we use tectum panels, which can resist a baseball at 95 miles per hour. The tectum panels give the ability to control the sound as well as lower the maintenance while giving incredible aesthetic appeal.

4. Floors & Doors
Perhaps the most used and abused parts of any building. That said, we recommend the installation of vinyl flooring that requires no waxing over a life-cycle of decades. This saves significant labor over the long-term…as much as $20 per square foot over a 25-year period of time! Likewise, we recommend buildings that feature pre-finished doors and frames that are guaranteed for the life of the building and never require painting or staining. 

5. Air Conditioning
Do not air-condition the attic. The selection of proper, high-quality, durable duct work can save significant energy. The more expensive Lindab product is gasketed, which allows 100 percent of the air to go to the intended source.

The bottom line is that cool air won't leak into the attic or above the ceilings. While the initial cost for Lindab vs. conventional ducts is more expensive, the installed cost is less since the labor is 1/3 of the conventional ductwork.  Long-term impact on utility bills will also be substantial.

6. Lighting
The use of T-5 technology, LED lighting where appropriate (exit lights, etc), multiple switching of lights in the large multi-use spaces, and lighting controls can change the cost of utilities from lighting demand as much as 30 percent.

In addition, lighting is all demand, and most utility companies charge for both electrical usage and demand.  One school we reviewed had a usage cost of $300 and demand of over $900 in one month.  With energy-efficient lighting, this could have lowered the usage by as much as $100 and the demand by as much as $500!

7. Construction Administration
The current model of distrust focuses on paperwork. A good program focuses on relationships between people. In our case, we're looking for partners, not vendors. As we determine who the team will be, we are looking more at honesty and perhaps a little humility because they have to be willing to learn a new and better way of construction delivery. We use trade partners, not subcontractors.

One key to this system is to select companies based on common capabilities, values, and high character…not a just a random collection of firms who share nothing more than a low bid price.  You want trade partners who can focus on developing measurable value and are not forced to play futile bid wars. Trade partners should be asked to participate in the earliest phases of planning and have an opportunity to make sure their knowledge is considered before it is too late. This process is the best way to construct a building, save money in the process, and honor God with our actions.

8. Alliances
The process of saving money is to change the paradigm in construction from a loose coalition of bidders who do not even know what a Christian school is to a group of trade partners who collaborate on a project from beginning to end with the school as a full partner. 

This is God's way. For Christian schools to survive and thrive, building committees must approach the construction process with strong Biblical stewardship as the guiding principle.

Lee Walker is president of Walker Design & Construction, Boca Raton, Florida, which has a strategic alliance with Building God's Way, www.bgwservices.com, and has constructed dozens of churches in the past decade alone. Based in South Florida, Walker Design & Construction has been building quality, energy efficient buildings for more than 35 years. For more information, contact Jeff Bercaw, director of development, Building God's Way, at jeffwdc@bellsouth.net

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