China Construction America

In 2008, when China Construction America got started as the general contractor for the construction of Clinton High School in Laurens County, S.C., it had experience on its side. Not long before, the company had completed two other high schools in similar size and scope, and it was confident its expertise would meet the needs of Clinton High School.

“Each job is a little different in its own way, but it helped that we had completed two other projects that were the same size,” Project Manager Tony Parker explains. “Educational and institutional projects are our core market segments – they make up about 90 percent of our work. We had the experience in place when going into this project.”

Even so, a tight timeframe can put the squeeze on even the most seasoned contractor. The new high school is 238,000 square feet in size, and China Construction had just two years to complete it. In addition to completing the structure and site work, the company had to install a new kitchen and “a large amount of new technology,” all of which takes time if you want to do it right, Parker stresses. With “careful planning, coordination and schedule,” he says, the company still was able to deliver the project successfully.

“We delivered the project on time and within budget,” he explains. “We delivered the school on Aug. 1, 2010, and we are proud of the work we did.”

Clay Concerns

Located in the northwestern section of South Carolina between Columbia and Greenville, the soil of Laurens Country is composed of red clay, which is well known to southern contractors. Before it even broke ground, China Construction realized its tight project schedule had to be maintained, even if the clay was problematic (which it always is).

“Red clay is hard to build on when it’s wet, so our plan was to get in there while the soil was still dry, and complete the [concrete masonry units] and masonry as soon as possible so we’d be ready for the roof as soon as possible,” Parker says. “The soil conditions were tough because there was so much red clay. Also, we had to conduct work during the winter, so we went to a six-day work week to make sure we remained on schedule.”

Not only is it difficult to build on wet red clay, but the clay also is difficult to move around on when wet. Due to the project’s schedule, China Construction didn’t have the option of shutting down the site and taking a day or two (or more) off whenever it rained. Instead, the company built temporary access roads for the delivery of the heavy equipment and masonry materials, and had two concrete roads on the site to ensure the workers were able to move around.

“The mud could get up to waist deep, but we had to keep going,” Parker explains. “We kept the equipment out on the site constantly because we were always moving dry dirt in, and moving the wet clay out.”

Close Coordination

The previous high school in this district was 56 years old, so the need for a new building was “definitely in the forefront” of the district’s concerns, according to Robby Roach, principal of Clinton High School.

“The building was old, and the infrastructure was difficult to get up to date with the modern technology,” he explains. “The community understood there was a need for a new school.”

Primarily, the school officials wanted the facility to have more interactive technology. In the new space, in addition to interactive white boards, every classroom is equipped with an LCD screen that is connected to the classroom’s computer. Students can use wireless slates to connect to the LCD screen and show their work, and teachers can use the LCD screen to incorporate a wide range of multimedia into their lessons.

“We wanted the learning in the school to be relevant to today’s trends,” Roach stresses.

A number of owner-contracted vendors worked with China Construction to install this new technology, Parker explains. To ensure the project remained on schedule and that the school’s needs were met, China Construction was careful to properly coordinate with every vendor, he notes.

“For all of the technology, the school had a lot of independent vendors, and we didn’t know their exact needs until almost six months into the project,” Parker says. “We worked closely with them to ensure all of their plans worked with the project’s drawings and the power requirements. It was important that we carefully coordinated with the vendors and the design professionals to stay on track. We didn’t want to fall behind because of lack of coordination with everyone involved.”

In the end, the plans all came together, and the project was delivered on time. According to Roach, the school’s administration, staff, teachers and students are “very happy and pleased” with the finished product.

“China has been great because they were always willing to work with us, and they were very flexible – they would come back and address any questions we had or any needs that came up,” Roach says. “They also trained our people on how to use all of the new, automated systems, which were new for us.

“This is a small town, and the school is a beacon,” he continues. “This town has had some hard times lately, and hopefully the school – along with a nearby college – will be a draw for the economic interests in the area. Hopefully new corporations will see that this community puts resources in education, and it will attract people here.”

Parker explains working closely with the school was of utmost importance to ensure the success of this project.

“This project really demonstrated the im­portance of coordinating with the needs of the owner,” Parker says. “Everything isn’t just dollars and cents – you have to think about a project from the owner’s perspective if you want to do a good job. For this school, it was important to look at it from the viewpoint of the user, and not just the builder.”

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