Boulder Valley School District/FCI Constructors – Meadowlark School

FCI picThe innovations built into Meadowlark School will leave the Erie, Colo., community in awe when it opens this fall.

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers

To meet the education needs of residents in the rapidly developing town of Erie, Colo., Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) last year began building Meadowlark School. About 570 prekindergarten through eighth grade students will attend the new state-of-the-art school in the fall. “Boulder Valley School District has about 27,000 students with 56 schools covering about 540 square miles,” BVSD Project Manager Tom Blahak says. “A piece of the Town of Erie is located in Boulder County and it’s our first building this far East.”

BVSD began area assessments for Meadowlark in 2013 and in 2014 passed a $576 million bond issue to build it and replace three other schools. “It’s still the largest public school bond issuance in Colorado history,” Blahak says. “Meadowlark total cost is $41.6 million with construction cost amounting to about $32.2 million.”

FCI Constructors, an employee-owned construction management and general contracting firm with a home base in Grand Junction, Colo., is overseeing the construction of Meadowlark. “We wanted someone who we felt was a true team player and also had a local presence, since their Fredrick office is approximately 5 miles away and many of their employees live in and around Erie,” Blahak says. “I have worked with them prior in other school districts and they had done work for us on the last bond. They have a proven track record, good safety record, integrity and attention to detail. They are a mid-sized company, but still maintain that hometown feel because they care about the customer.”

Building Meadowlark

BVSD says its biggest challenge was ensuring a clear title to the land. When plans began in summer 2015 and the architects were about 50 percent through schematic design, BVSD discovered adjacent to the site was a small plot of land owned by an oil and gas company that still had oil and gas drilling rights. This was a very contentious issue with the town and homeowners because homes were purchased under the assumption there would be a school built in the Flatiron Meadows neighborhood.

“As late as March 2016 we were waiting to make a decision to build or not build,” Blahak remembers. “This is oil and gas territory and the laws state you can’t put a school within 1,000 feet of land that may one day have active drilling. We had to move the entire school 52 feet to the west and redesign it while holding firm to the August 2017 opening.” FCI box

To ensure Meadowlark opens in August, Blahak says there are an average of 156 workers onsite daily but the construction market in Colorado hasn’t made it easy to find subcontractors. “You can’t find crews because during the recession many went into the oil and gas industry,” he explains. “As an example for our drywall subcontractor, we chose a company that FCI worked with before and they had to bring an additional 45 people from Oklahoma to supplement their Colorado crews.”

Innovative Design

The main school building is phase one of construction and is on track to be completed before school starts on Aug. 18. The gymnasium is phase two and expected to be completed in October.

For architects, BVSD chose Fielding Nair International, a global leader in education planning and architectural design based in Lutz, Fla., who  specializes in innovative construction and renovation of school facilities with the goal of improving learning. They teamed with local architect The Cunningham Group who shared the same vision and championed the design. The 2 firms designed the two-story, 101,000-square-foot school that is being built to LEED Gold standards.

The exterior of Meadowlark is made up of Turtle Creek, Pa.-based TAKTL’s ultra high performance concrete (UHPC) panels, which are typically used on higher education and multi-story buildings and are virtually maintenance free.  The attraction is ease of maintenance because school districts always face high costs to maintain its buildings.”

Meadowlark features a radiant floor heating and cooling system with 78 zones throughout the school. “This is a very energy efficient model once the concrete floors come up to the desired temperature,” Blahak explains. “Each room was also designed with a natural ventilation system. Outside air flows through vertical Renson brand vents located in the window frames then up through a solar chimney. A red or green light tells the teachers or students when to open the vents and use outside air to save on heating and cooling.”

The project team worked hard to maximize the energy efficiency of the new building. Energy use is predicted to be half of what it would be if the building were designed to meet minimum building code requirements. BVSD future plans will include solar panels on the roof of Meadowlark and once these are installed the school will be a net zero energy building. Inside the school, classrooms were designed to promote a collaborative teaching model. “We combined two grades in a learning community, and have installed LaCantina glass sliding doors between the classrooms so the teachers can collaboratively teach up to six classes. When you open the doors, the available space can accommodate up to 40 to 50 students with one group of teachers and allow other teachers to give individual attention to smaller groups .”

One of the most striking areas in the school is the “cafetorium,” which Blahak says is considered to be the Heart of Meadowlark. “If you think of a college lecture hall, that’s what it is modeled after,” he explains. “There are steps going up and on the very top we have a technology center and student broadcast station. It will be a very high-tech school.”

In addition to the amenities found in the Heart space, the view of the Front Range from that space is breathtaking. “It is absolutely gorgeous,” Blahak says. “We took advantage of the terrain which slopes gradually and buried the east end of the building into the high side keeping a low  profile building so the neighbors view would not be obstructed.”

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