Originally posted Monday, 13 September 2010

Special Award

Los Angeles Unified School District—Edward R. Roybal Learning Center

Imagine a new school project on 34 acres in the heart of downtown Los Angeles that included the rehabilitation and new construction of 610,000 square feet plus an underground garage for 481 parking spaces. And as if this were not enough, few K-12 projects have had as torturous a history as this one.

The project broke ground in 1997, only to be halted in 1999 after the discovery of dangerous methane gases and an earthquake fault below the surface. At first, the thought was to cancel the project but the community rallied to build it safely.

New architects took over in 2003 and transformed it into a vibrant, successful learning environment. And on September 3, 2008, more than 2,100 high school students attended classes at the center. “This is an incredible design and our architecture firm came in here, took on this risk, and did just a fabulous job of converting this old design into the new school with the new requirements we have today,” said Guy Mehula, Chief Executive of LAUSD’s Facilities Division.

After completion, the LAUSD board named the new high school in honor of the late U.S. Congressman Edward R. Roybal (1916-2005), who is recognized as one of the most prominent Latino civil rights leaders in the City’s history. During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, his daughter, U.S. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard said “My father believed that education was the single greatest gift we could pass on to our children, because an education, as he would say, ‘can never be taken away from you.’”

Three existing three-storey buildings and one one-storey existing building totaling 500,000 square feet were rehabilitated to create 88 new classrooms and a triple gymnasium totaling 200,000 square feet. New construction at the site included one 55,000 square foot slab-on grade auditorium, a library, a cafeteria and one 55,000 square foot administration and classroom building. The project also included a central plant for HVAC, as well as ten acres of athletic facilities. One unique feature of the project was an elaborate passive and active gas mitigation system to provide protection from the methane and hydrogen sulfide gases. The methane gas-mitigation system includes tubes underneath plastic liners below the concrete slabs, and venting poles that direct the gas into the open air, where it dissipates and is no longer dangerous.

The successful completion of this project required an owner who provided exceptional project leadership. Because of the project’s many layers of significance to the Los Angeles Unified School District and the community, the Owner’s Project Manager was careful from the start to ensure good communications across a wide range of interest while ensuring the project’s schedule.

Management understood the need to have all parties work openly and cooperatively to ensure project success. Therefore, a requirement for partnering sessions to be attended by all major stakeholders was included in the contract documents. Partnering sessions were held on a quarterly basis and were attended by the Owner’s staff, project architects and engineers, Office of Environmental Health & Safety (OEHS), DSA Inspectors, the general contractor and all major subcontractors. This enabled the project goals and open lines of communication to be established. All parties agreed that it was acceptable to disagree so long as the project progressed while disputed issues were elevated to upper management for resolution.

“The project experienced difficulties with inspection disputes, design conflicts, and outside entity disruptions that potentially could have derailed this project,” said Jeff Brunswig, Project Manager for Hensel Phelps Construction, which received a Marvin M. Black Excellence in Partnering Award from the Associated General Contractors of America for its work on the project. “However, due to [LAVSD’s] leadership and professionalism, they quickly, effectively and efficiently responded to every challenge and the project was ultimately a success.”

“With the open door and open mind attitude of LAUSD’s project managers, we were able to tackle the environmental hazards and incomplete construction of the existing structures and redesign the entire campus to accommodate the new Small Learning Communities,” said Adrian Cohen, Partner with WWCOT Architects.