The Kid’s First Building was a collaboration to build a great facility between Jenison Public Schools, TowerPinkster, and Triangle Associates Inc.
Why this school project? What was the driving force behind the plan for an early education center for Jenison Public Schools?
Tom Tenbrink (Superintendent, Jenison Public Schools): When I started as Superintendent at Jenison Public Schools in 2003, we were in the midst of budget cuts. I had to make the tough decision to close an old one-section building that wasn’t serving us the way we needed it to. I had the vision to create a new early childhood center, which our district desperately needed. The needs for this building were greater than what the one-section building could hold. What eventually became the Kid’s First Building is a vital part of our community and has helped Jenison Public School District grow immensely.
How did the Kid’s First Building project begin? How did it evolve after involving both Triangle Associates and TowerPinkster?
Tom Tenbrink (Superintendent, Jenison Public Schools): We were able to purchase a significant amount of property for a great price that allowed us to build a bigger structure than originally anticipated in a very old cornfield. Our Spanish Immersion Program at the time was split between two buildings. We wanted to join that program together, so we considered moving them into the old one-section building. Triangle did some estimates on how much it would cost to improve the old building to bring it up to where we needed it for that program, but after involving TowerPinkster as well, they came together and realized that a different plan may work better. Triangle and TowerPinkster suggested that we instead build a two-story building that could house both our Spanish Immersion Program, El Puente, and our early childhood students, and it would only cost slightly more than the expense of upgrading the one-section building.
How did TowerPinkster help make this project successful?
Tom Tenbrink (Superintendent, Jenison Public Schools): We had worked with Triangle as our Construction Manager many times and wanted them back for this project as well. I had heard from a family member that TowerPinkster had a reputation for working well with construction managers and performing fantastic work on school buildings. It took maybe an hour for them to sell me on why they would be the best architect to work with for Jenison Public Schools. I tend to dream big when it comes to projects, but I also try to be a realist. I envisioned a beautiful state-of-the-art building for young children, with playgrounds designed intentionally for them. I like to do things differently. I dislike cookie-cutter school buildings. That’s part of what sold me on TowerPinkster, and Matt Slagle specifically, is his ability to say, ‘How can we make a school building that doesn’t look like a school building?’. For this project, in particular, we added curved walls to the hallways and we removed all the lockers and put them inside the classrooms. This makes the interior feel ginormous. The curvature of the walls is very signature, as well as the choice of brick, and the style in general. It’s been a blessing to have this kind of partnership where I can dream up something fantastical and have TowerPinkster put it on paper. Then, of course, Scott Jernberg’s team at Triangle puts together cost estimates so we can see exactly what the budget is. Overall, it’s been a great relationship between all of us and there’s a lot of understanding. Both parties under-promise and over-deliver, which is so important when it comes to school buildings.
“We wanted the learning to continue outside of the classroom and make it a useable space that kids enjoy being in.”
After hearing Tom’s plan for the Kid’s First Building, what ideas did TowerPinkster bring to the table?
Matt Slagle AIA, CPTED, LEED AP (K-12 Director & Principal, TowerPinkster): We spent time before the bond touring Jenison’s facilities to under the values of the district. We knew that we didn’t want big, long endless corridors. We wanted the learning to continue outside of the classroom and make it a useable space that kids enjoy being in. In hindsight, the large, curved hallways grant more space for kids to socially distance themselves now. Of course, that’s not anything we thought would be necessary during the initial design, but it’s certainly an important aspect of it now. When we met Lee, the principal, he expressed that he wanted space for kids to be active. There’s plenty of playground space, of course, but there is also a quarter-mile track all around the school building. To help the kids expend some energy during the day, the faculty can say, ‘Let’s take a lap!”.
How did you work around challenges to get the district and community what they needed? How did you find a happy medium between what was feasible in the budget compared to the needs/wants of the district?
Matt Slagle AIA, CPTED, LEED AP (K-12 Director & Principal, TowerPinkster): We wanted each classroom to provide an intimate environment, with large windows and window seats. There were concerns within the community about safety and energy conservation, so we worked together to find a solution that includes lots of natural light and safe space. By working together with the community and utilizing their input, we were able to build a place where kids enjoy coming to learn each day.
What types of work were included in the bid? Were you able to get the work completed on time?
Scott Jernberg (Senior Project Manager, Triangle Associates Inc): The new early learning childhood and Spanish Immersion center for Jenison Public Schools’ 2016 Bond was the first new school in the district in 50 years. This two-story, 86,600 square foot building has a total of 36 classrooms, eight of which are dedicated to the Spanish Immersion Program. Other highlights include state-of-the-art technology features with assisted listening systems in every classroom, LED lighting controls, oversized windows to allow for more natural light, two new playgrounds for different age groups, and two full-sized playfields. The facility was built to LEED standards. The total project cost was $18.8 million. We had 27 work scopes on bid day. Through the entire course of the project, we were on budget and even returned money back to the district in the form of contingency dollars to be used on other building improvements or technologies for the students and staff.
How did your relationship with TowerPinkster help you stay on time and on budget during the Kid’s First Building project?
Scott Jernberg (Senior Project Manager, Triangle Associates Inc): We’ve worked with TowerPinkster multiple times, and greatly value the relationship between us. The information TowerPinkster presents to us allows our estimators to maintain accuracy and put together realistic estimates based on market price and lead indicators. In the end, we were able to give Jenison Schools every single square foot possible out of the budget to make it a great place for the kids to learn.
What challenges did you face?
Scott Jernberg (Senior Project Manager, Triangle Associates Inc): The market for material prices wasn’t quite as volatile as it is currently, however the biggest challenge we faced was the large mechanical equipment we needed on site not getting to us on time. The project mechanical equipment was not manufactured in the US and the manufacturing location was hit by a hurricane. The equipment was completed, but not fully assembled. We had to adjust on the fly and use some local contractors to get the equipment ready to go. These aren’t challenges you can plan for, the market won’t tell you that they’re coming, but you have to see them and make the proper adjustments. We were able to do this because the lines of communication between Triangle and TowerPinkster were always open and effective. We not only tackled this obstacle, but we still kept on schedule.
How did the different trades on this project help make it successful?
Scott Jernberg (Senior Project Manager, Triangle Associates Inc): We had a lot of buy-in from our steel partners and masonry team members from the start. They were fully versed on expectations and they not only met our expectations but exceeded them. They had materials for us when we needed them and they had the manpower we requested, if not more than what we asked for. At one point, we were a month and a half ahead of schedule because they gave us more than we asked for. This also gave us the time to handle the issue with the mechanical equipment and some of the things we struggled with later on in this project. The landscapers did a great job making the site green and beautiful for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. I’ve never seen a site go from hydro-mulch seed to grass so quickly. Everything that went into it, from the roofing to the masonry work, was done well. Every single contractor stepped up to the plate and each one of them deserves applause. Last minute, before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, a metal panel that was meant to go on the outside of the building didn’t get to us in time, so our team painted the area to make it look presentable. Everyone went above and beyond through the entirety of the project.
Thank you to these trade contractors from Triangle Associates Inc!
Burgess Concrete | JK Masonry | Van Dellen Steel | Plaggemars Construction | Versatile Roofing | Great Lakes Systems | CJ’s Coating-Sealants | Vos Glass | Intext Concepts | DeGraaf Interiors | Dave Cole Decorators | Rayhaven Equipment | Great Lakes West | Architectural Systems Group | Otis Elevator | Triad Fire Protection | Alternative Mechanical | NWK Mechanical | Control Solutions | Parkway Electric | Excel Electric | Central Interconnect | Terra Contractors | Superior Asphalt | Straightline Fence | Raymer Well | Twin Lakes Nursery.
We now have 1,500 school of choice students as a result of the investment we’ve made in the school facilities.
How did this new construction impact the community? How will it continue to impact the community for future generations?
Tom Tenbrink (Superintendent, Jenison Public Schools): Back in 2011, Jenison Public Schools was a declining school district. Like many districts, our school is the center of our community. Our voters passing a 1.98 mil increase in order to build our Jenison Center for the Arts in 2011 became a catalyst that changed the entire trajectory of our district. We knew that we would need to grow our way out of the recession. We now have 1,500 school of choice students as a result of the investment we’ve made in the school facilities.
What were the takeaways from this project?
Tom Tenbrink (Superintendent, Jenison Public Schools): The design serves us incredibly well and everyone is so pleased with the learning environment. Kudos to Matt for bringing my vision to paper, and to Scott for pulling it off. There is so much collaboration and dedication in this team. One of Triangle’s foremen, Mark ‘Jenison’ Buczek, was integral to this bond project because any time he saw something that needed to be done, he did it himself. I found him numerous times late at night working on this building. The relationships you have with your architect and construction manager really show their face when there are issues. Over the time we’ve worked together, we’ve had to figure out some big issues, but both TowerPinkster and Triangle always come to the table with potential solutions. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. When there is a significant issue, do you have the relationship, trust, and collaboration to be in it together and resolve it? Building school facilities are different than other commercial buildings and having people who can think about how the space needs to operate to be functional as an education space is what makes this partnership successful.
This article was originally featured in The Source.