Originally posted Tuesday, 28 June 2011

When the Loudoun County Public School system realized that it needed to build more schools, they didn’t anticipate that so many obstacles would be stacked against them.

The number of students attending Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has almost doubled in fewer than ten years, growing from 31,804 in 2000 to 59,490 in 2009. The LCPS system set out on January 7, 2009, to create three new schools to be opened before the beginning of the 2010 school year, in order to make room for the rapidly growing population of Loudoun County. But when it came to building one of these schools, Tuscarora High School, they hit more than one snag that might have stumped a lesser project management team.

Untitled-2The site of Tuscarora High School was a 132-acre parcel originally used s a livestock farmstead. The school was to include a 280,000-square-foot main building; a full athletic complex with a 4,000-seat stadium for football, soccer, and lacrosse; baseball and softball fields; and ancillary support and physical education program spaces. The unique landscape on which Tuscarora High School would be built would also allow students multiple outdoor classroom opportunities not usually offered in high schools. These opportunities would include studying and observing the natural inventory of vegetation and wildlife, participating in water sampling, mapping LID measures, site visits during stream reclamation, and water quality and habitat monitoring.

The original completion estimate was set at July 2, 2010, which gave the LCPS management team 540 days to overcome project constraints, outside intervention, “State of Emergency” winter weather, eminent domain procedures, an abbreviated design schedule, and a 19-month construction period. With only one 30-day extension, the project team was able to finish just 29 days after the originally projected date, but it wasn’t easy.

Before construction even began, obtaining the site presented its own problems. Initially for sale, the absentee owner of the land rejected the LCPS’s offer to purchase the property. Eventually, legal counsel initiated eminent domain proceedings, which took months to negotiate and settle. To create a uniform lot, more legal maneuvering was needed to negotiate a parcel that would fit the school’s requirements.

After the land was obtained, the next task was to garner public support and the proper zoning for the school. The site was located at the town limits and had to be annexed into the town before it could qualify for water and sewer services. But the annexation process requires that parcels of land be reviewed for annexation in the order the applications were received. Applications ahead of the school site were subject to legal proceedings, which hindered, and at times stopped, the entire review process. The LCPS and their consultant team assisted in logistics and coordination of other applications to power through this review process with the maximum speed possible.

As the land was being obtained, the public was very concerned about the environmental impact of the school’s construction. While the focus on sustainability efforts taxed the project team, it also offered the LCPS Division of Construction Services the opportunity to showcase its extensive environmental efforts. Public information sessions and awareness campaigns were held that eased the mind of critics of the project’s sustainability, constructability, conservation, and ability to listen to the public.

As the project team did everything possible to conserve the environment of the Tuscarora site, the very landscape seemed determined to throw even more obstacles before the project. These obstacles tested the management team’s creativity and ability to adapt. Even after numerous geological probes and analyses, the terrain of the construction site proved difficult to navigate. The physical characteristics of the parcel consisted of karst subsurface features that required extensive geotechnical and geophysical investigations. These investigations required the reorganization of facilities and the re-design of the site to avoid improvements at or near known features. Even despite the extensive engineering analysis, the main structure experienced subsurface soil migration. This resulted in widespread remediation via pressure-grouted auger piles beneath the foundation and structural steel already in place.

The impediments of legal proceedings, land acquisition, design, and approval shortened the already tight allotted time for construction to a mere 19 months. Accomplishing this time-goal would be a feat in itself. But another wrench in the works came in the form of heavy snowfall in the Loudoun County area. In year two of production, three blizzards delayed construction—one in December and two back-to-back in February. Finishing on time and on budget was beginning to seem improbable.

Saviors came in the forms of Kenneth Theurich, project engineer and leader of the design phase, and Robert A. (Tony) McGraw, construction supervisor and leader of the construction phase. When the time and budget seemed to be slipping away, Theurich and McGraw were able to take the reins and pull everything together again.

Tuscarora High School

Total Project Cost:
approximately $83 million
Total Construction Cost:
approximately $56 million
Loudoun County Public Schools
Construction Supervisor:
Tony McGraw
Sr.Project Manager:
Hal Broadhurst
Kevin Lewis
GC Firm:
Howard Shockey and Sons, Inc.
Project Manager:
Al Seizemore
Project Manager:
Ev Neil
Project Engineers:
Tim Sutphin, Rob Wagoner
Mike Stanger
SHW Group, Inc.
Project Manager/Architect:
Derk Jeffrey
Mechanical Engineer:
Randy Daniels
Electrical Engineer:
Benji Linkous
Structural Engineer:
Cindy Ponafala
Civil Engineer:
Cody Francis
Geotechnical Engineer:
Robert Holstead

Theurich provided exceptional management by expertly juggling the many facets of the project while not being distracted by the everyday, minor difficulties. This effort is especially incredible given the numerous engineering firms, environmental groups, annexation processes, federal agencies, and political pressures. Theurich took ownership of the design schedule and managed all the tasks, meetings, and submission approvals needed to finish the project on time. When it became clear at 50 percent completion that the site plan would not be finished on time, Theurich had to replace the civil engineering design consultant and withdraw submissions to the authorities having jurisdiction over the plan review. Theurich’s expertise in engineering management not only helped the conversion, it saved the project schedule from spiraling out of control as he unified the multiple teams and found another consulting firm to join the project. Ultimately, after this reorganization and the hiring of the new firm, Bowman Consulting Group, they were able to shave six months off the approval process.

When it came to cost-saving ideas, McGraw was the man of the hour. During the excavation operations, McGraw negotiated project specification revisions to the site work scope. He renegotiated rock removal contract terms from unit cost to lump sum cost, thereby saving $500,000 in rock removal claims. McGraw was also able to separate the stress of cost-related issues from production-related issues by alternating weekly meetings to focus on one or the other. In this way, the cost meetings were allowed intense focus, creating a strong relationship with Shockey & Sons, the general contracting and construction management company.

The project of Tuscarora High School succeeded as a whole on a number of levels due to the excellence of management that characterized the entire process. Mike Stranger, the superintendent for Shockey & Sons, ordered a no smoking/eating/ drinking policy within the area of the building footprint. This policy established and maintained a clean environment for workers, as well as keeping the location free from unwanted waste or debris. The end result was a clean, polished product. When touring the school, staff often commented, “Tuscarora High School looks like a hospital in terms of cleanliness.”

Green initiatives are, of course, very important in today’s construction projects. LCPS understood and accounted for this when selecting the site for Tuscarora High School. They used the utmost care during production to ensure the least amount of environmental impact possible. The site was and still remains home to a tributary stream that supported the Big Spring native trout habitat, the home of Loudoun County’s only wild trout population.

The Tuscarora High School project’s commitment to the environment is apparent in the number of people associated with the project who were nominated for the Loudoun County Environmental Preservation Award. Of the five awards given, four were awarded to those associated with Tuscarora High School. The award recognizes projects that have achieved the highest standards of performance for the preservation of the county’s natural resources through erosion and sediment control. Kevin Haile, Erosion and Sediment Control Program Manager and judge of the preservation award, said that nominees, to be chosen, “must have not only maintained effective erosion and sediment controls but have gone above and beyond the minimum standards on a daily basis.”

In the face of all the difficulties encountered, LCPS and the project team persevered with steady communication, plan implementation, and problem solving. To create the “climate for success” that LCPS wanted to provide for its students, it aimed to provide a sustainable, cost-efficient, quality facility of which its community could be proud. That is why Loudoun County Public Schools is the recipient of the 2010 Project Leadership Silver Award.

No matter the struggles endured or honors awarded, the true success of the project was achieved when students entered Tuscarora High School for the first time. While the students had no idea of the difficulties that had been surmounted before they could set foot inside the new school, we can all be proud of those responsible for making the Tuscarora High School a reality.

By Brittany Weissler