Occasionally there were moments of levity, like the time late in the afternoon when there was some confusion about the garbage can washing station and someone cut to the chase and described it as an “industrial bidet.” Just yikes.
Sitting at a long conference table with a dozen experts in plumbing, electrical, and engineering, I was a stranger in a strange land, a principal at a day long construction meeting. It’s a part of the job that I was not trained for; I got into education to teach kids English. As a principal, however, and a principal at a school preparing to undergo major construction, it’s important for me to able to take my seat at the gathering of those folks who make a living by designing, constructing, and making buildings work and be more than a spectator. I need to pay attention, listen, learn, and participate.
So yesterday from ten in the morning until after five o’clock at night we talked through more than 300 items, reviewing, accepting, and writing comments on everything from rat slabs to bollards …so many bollards.
I wasn’t the biggest expert in the room; I’m an educator, not a builder, but the many voices who joined the meeting were, and their perspectives (under the guiding hand of our gifted project manager) informed the design of a school that will truly benefit kids.
I get asked sometimes if I hate going to construction meetings, especially so close to the start of the school year when there are things to be done on site and my attention needs to go toward preparing for teachers and students to return to campus. My answer is a resounding no.
How important is it that the principal know the voltage of the hand dryers? Maybe not that much. But for the dozen times I needed to speak up and offer the school’s point of view on things like the importance of LED track lighting for displaying artwork in the hallways or the need to make the commons a true performance space, my presence and focus were very important.
For nine of my ten years as a site administrator I’ve worked at schools undergoing construction. I’ve redone two libraries, overseen three campus spanning trenching and data rewiring projects, and been a part of designing and constructing a two story science and math building. I’ve had the opportunity to plan, work with architects, and put on a hard hat year after year, and 2018-2019 sees the start of the biggest project of my professional life: we’re razing the beloved and antiquated current building and replacing it with all new construction.
This is a big build, independent of the challenges we face to save and honor existing student artwork and decades of rich history, and one that will be a success because of the many, many professionals each contributing their expertise (on everything from HVAC to soffits to I beams).
At our review meeting the team systematically worked through question after question, discussing what needed to be done, cross referencing city and state ordinances, and talking through district standards and school requirements. Today’s meeting involved many experts on specific aspects of construction.
In the morning the civil engineers were there, talking exterior details with the landscape architects. My contributions were modest, but the information I heard will be important as I talk with my staff, students, and parents.
By late morning we’d moved inside, discussing the layout of the new kitchen, ovens, refrigeration, and a wire wall. We talked structural challenges, risk management offering ideas to avoid encouraging indoor parkour in our commons, maintenance discussing polished concrete and long term durability, and our architects lobbying to maintain the aesthetics of a marvelous wood and metal feature near the main staircase.
HVAC and plumbing followed a working lunch, with discussions of redundancy, talk of fans, vents, and water heaters filling the construction trailer where we were meeting. A rousing debate about ductwork put us behind schedule, all of us rummy and a little tired. It was then that the renewing laughter from that daring description of the garbage can washing station gave us enough energy to smile and keep going. We dove into electrical, IT, and AV.
Throughout the day my appreciation for the expertise of those many individuals grew and grew. This was collaboration incarnate. My school of the future will be better because Leslie knows building, Jane knows architecture, and Chris knows everything.
It’s meetings like today’s that give me a thorough and profound understanding of my site. They are an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone, be an advocate for my school, and help contribute in a small but useful way to the important work of building something amazing.