Stahl Construction Company

Every new construction project is exciting. It’s the chance to create something beautiful, unique and useful. If the job is done right, it will stand the test of time as a testament to those involved in its preparation and construction. Yet, of all the different types of construction projects available, building a school is unique in the important role the structure plays in the community. It’s an opportunity to make a difference in students’ education by providing them with a positive learning environment. Contractors that – regardless of the contractual delivery method – engage with the students and their families, the design professionals, school district and local subcontractors play a vital role in ensuring the best decisions are made for the community. 

No stranger to school construction, Stahl has completed over 125 education sector projects that range from early childhood to colleges. Among them are award-winning projects including fine art centers for both Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota, a bio renewables facility for Iowa State University, civil engineering building for the University of Minnesota Duluth, as well as elementary, middle and high schools in Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. The mid-sized construction firm must be doing something right because it’s in the process of constructing yet another education project: the new Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. This project is going to be huge.

Johnston High School will be the largest new high school in the state of Iowa and one of the largest projects in the 35-year history of Stahl Construction. The school will be 369,000 square feet and is positioned on 128 acres of land.  

A Growing Population

The local population has been growing exponentially, which is why the need for a new high school to serve grades 10-12 arose. Located on the north side of Des Moines, Johnston is a suburb bordering I-35W. According to a school district report, Johnston, like many of its metro counterparts, has experienced a boom in population over the past 20 years. The city’s population has grown approximately 99.8 percent since the year 2000 (8,649 residents in 2013), which means the school-age population has also grown drastically. From 2000 to 2013, the district has increased by 2,431 students, nearly 200 students per year.

The decision to build a new high school rather than renovate the existing one was partly based on the population influx. The current high school can still be used with minor future renovations. As the district continues to grow, having a new high school in addition to the previous building would give the district the option of having two high schools in Johnston. 

Stahl Awarded the Bid

Why Stahl? The firm has extensive experience in the education sector and a stellar reputation.  But, ultimately the project was competed for via hard bid. Several large firms competed for the opportunity. Stahl Construction had the strongest bid. Vice President of Construction Lee Harrison says what distinguishes his company from others is value, their team-based approach and integrity. “We truly care about the people we work for,” he says. “The work we do impacts the local economy and the community and we take that responsibility seriously. We work as an integrated team to deliver the best value we can.”

Members of the Johnston School District knew of other major education projects Stahl had completed in the region. The Stahl team would have liked to see the project be brought to the market as a construction management opportunity, which would have enabled their team to work earlier in the design phase to protect the interests of the school district and offer vital cost, content and constructability input. But, construction management isn’t as common a delivery format in Iowa as it is in the contractor’s home state, Minnesota. “Even though we weren’t able to engage formally as early as we would have liked in the design phase, we took every opportunity to come alongside the district and offer any support we could,” says Stahl Construction President Jessie Houlihan Bingen. “Our team lived and breathed the plans and worked tirelessly with the local subcontractor base to offer the most competitive bid we could. We are thankful for the fantastic subcontractors we partner with in the Iowa market and are proud to be working alongside the Johnston School District to deliver a record-setting facility to the community.”

Ready for Students in 2017

Stahl began construction of the $76.5 million project in September 2014, and is scheduled to be substantially complete in April 2017. Designed for a capacity of 1,800, the new building will welcome students in the fall of 2017. The 369,000-square-foot building is comprised of two levels and is divided into five areas labeled A through E. 

Area A is comprised of a performing arts wing complete with auditorium, music studios and arts classrooms. The theater seats 1,200 and features a recessed orchestra pit, balcony and state-of-the-art stage and audiovisual components. Areas B and C consist of classrooms, including science labs. The main entrance, which is located in area D near administration offices and a few other classrooms, is open two stories and features clerestory windows with light panels to offer natural light. Each area of the building has its own landscaped courtyard, which function as teaching space when the weather is accommodating as well as a peaceful location to take a break or study.  “One of the elements I find most impactful is the terrazzo corridor that stretches from area B to area D,” Lee Harrison says. “From area B, a long wide corridor with glass curtain wall extends out past all of the courtyards to the common area, which will be the cafeteria. It will be a beautiful place for students and faculty to circulate every day.” The gymnasium is located in area E and features a full-game gym with retractable bleachers and an elevated running track and a separate auxiliary gym. All of the floors throughout the school will be heated via 720 geothermal wells that are 300 feet deep. 

“A successful project is the result of a strong team and we have some great partners working with us on this project,” Harrison notes. The architect of record for the new Johnston High School is West Des Moines-based FRK Architects + Engineers. FRK partnered with Perkins & Will, a firm out of Chicago, for this project.  “We have a good rapport with the architects and a strong relationship with Superintendent Dr. Corey Lunn,” Harrison adds. “We work closely with the school district’s Director of Buildings and Grounds Tim Kline and with FRK’s architect Thomas Wollan. Their teamwork is vital to the success of the project.” This is Stahl’s first time working with the Johnston Community School District and FRK. 

Valued subcontractors on this project include:

    • Kruck Plumbing and Heating
    • DeVries Electric
    • Cameron Mitchell 
    • US Erectors
    • Forrest Associate
    • Jordison Construction
    • Van Pelt Painting
    • Katelman Steel
    • HIS
    • McAnich Corporation
    • Viking Construction
    • Secoa
    • Iowa Direct Equipment 
Under Construction

Though the construction site is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Stahl’s home office, Harrison says the distance is not an issue. The firm has actively worked in Iowa for years and has managed projects as far away as California, Texas and Colorado.  “After many years of building in the great state of Iowa we are glad to be putting in roots and expanding our presence in the market, “ Harrison says. “We are here to stay.” 

Progress on the high school has been steady despite unpredictable weather conditions. In the winter, the team utilized frozen ground as a solid surface for receiving heavy trucks carrying 30-ton, 68-foot pre-cast concrete panels so large that they have been rumored to be the largest of their kind in the state of Iowa. In the spring and summer, excessive rain challenged the progress of the original construction schedule. “We worked our way through it as we always do when challenges arise,” Harrison explains. “The amount of rain we were getting in one day was enough to saturate the ground for three days. That doesn’t mean we missed our milestone deadlines. No, we changed our plans and moved forward in areas where we could. Our team specializes in complicated projects and problem-solving. So, we came together as a team to develop new strategies to meet the overall project schedule.” 

With the foundation set, the public has been able to see brick walls going up in the classroom portions, allowing a first glimpse of what the new school will look like when finished. The building itself is made of structural steel frame with exterior framed walls and heavy-gauge metal studs.  

35 Years of History

Founded in 1981 by current CEO and owner Wayne Stahl, Stahl Construction has numerous projects under its belt in multiple sectors. The firm calls itself a “mid-size company” – robust enough to be full service yet small enough to deliver personal attention to clients. “We only take on projects we are passionate about as a team and where we can deliver exceptional value to our clients,” says Jessie Houlihan Bingen, Stahl’s president. “We are committed to remaining an engaged partner dedicated to our client’s success.” For more than three decades Stahl has upheld a reputation that has earned it some of the most reputable projects in Minnesota and its surrounding states, including the monumental work for Johnston. 

The staff at Stahl includes a collection of construction professionals – engineers, project managers, field superintendents and support personnel – who bring talent and experience to every project. As an employee of Stahl for 30 years, Harrison remarks that he has stayed with the firm for this long because it is committed to conducting business with integrity and treating its employees respectfully.  Harrison began as a superintendent at Stahl and has served in several roles before being promoted to his position as vice president of construction. “Stahl is focused on providing a collaborative, inclusive environment where employees can work hard and grow in their profession,” he adds. “I have committed many years to the company because I believe in their mission and was rewarded with the opportunity to grow into leadership within the firm. That is how they operate. Stahl endeavors to treat people well and do the right thing. That’s why we have such a great work culture and why we have been successful with our clients as well.” 

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