Episode 137

Top ‘Must Do’s’ from a school construction project

February 21, 2019 | Leadership
Guest:Matt Montgomery

In this episode, we’ll discuss how to manage a school construction project—and do it well. Host Carole Dorn-Bell speaks with Matt Montgomery, Superintendent of Revere Local Schools in Ohio, which is undergoing a very large construction project.

Revere Local Schools is in the midst of a $79.4 million construction project that includes building a new high school, elementary school, bus garage and athletic fields, along with renovations to two other buildings. The school construction project is the result of a $4.1 million bond issue that voters passed in November 2016.

Carole notes that in such extensive bond projects, it can be difficult to communicate effectively. They can be perceived by the community as “wish lists” rather than a list of what the school really needs.

Matt says they started planning for the project when he came on board in early 2015, about a year before going to the ballot.

“It was a long journey,” Matt says. “We integrated this into our strategic plan. We were talking that whole time about defining our need.”

Matt provides a historical recap of how the district spent decades talking about the need for a school construction project. In 2005, a measure was defeated.

“This time we really focused on communicating why the new buildings were needed,” he says.

That meant talking about an elementary building that was constructed in 1923, and a high school that was built in 1951 and saw six renovations over the decades.

“I think the biggest thing we did was we worked to get that consistent factual information out to the public,” Matt says, citing a particularly effective educational video. “The video was a great medium to utilize to try to impress upon folks how important this issue was to the community now and for years to come.”

Carole and Matt talk about how safety issues around recent school shootings also played into the project.

Asked about communication methods, Matt says they used as many ways to communicate as possible.

“You can never communicate enough,” he says. “We rely heavily on our website and our social media channels,” along with newsletters, print and monthly columns for a local publication.

Matt describes the successful team structure of a construction management at-risk model. There’s a construction management firm, and he and the treasurer act as project managers to oversee the projects.

“We partner to share the workload, to make sure it gets done on time and under budget,” he says.

Another key to tackling the process was to make realistic promises.

“This is a conversation we have almost daily because we want to make sure that we are coming through with a promises-made, promises-kept type of mentality,” Matt says.

While $79.4 million sounds like an endless pot of money, it seems smaller and smaller once the pieces of the construction project are added up.

Carole asks about lessons learned throughout process of a school construction project.

“Start talking about the issue early and often,” Matt says. “There will be numerous questions along the way—it is imperative that one provides consistent information.”

Assembling a bond-issue committee early in the process was helpful.

“We had a small but hard-working team that collaborated and helped maintain the consistent information, helped provide feedback during planning and was instrumental in getting the actual bond passed,” he says. “And maintaining that information today is key.”

Carole asks what advice he has for other superintendents about to embark on a school construction project.

“I would advise them to have a strategic plan in place from the onset,” he says.

Carole recaps the discussion by emphasizing the role that strategic planning plays in facilities projects.

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