DANVILLE, Iowa — When it went before the voters in 2018 with a proposed $8.9 million bond issue, the Danville Community School District promised the planned improvements would leave the district’s school facilities in good shape for the next 25 years.
Already 46 years into his educational career, Dr. Thomas Ward, the fourth-year Danville superintendent, is sure to be retired by the time future school district officials will need to think again about a major overhaul of facilities.
Looking that far into the future, though, Ward knows what company he would recommend to provide construction management agency services on whatever project is being considered.
“If the need arises that we need to do something with this facility, there’s only one company to turn to, and that’s Carl A. Nelson,” he said. “I hope I’m around in 25 years to vouch for that.”
Work on additions and renovations at the K-12 school campus was substantially complete before school opened after Labor Day. Progress was sped up by the closure of school in March due to COVID-19 that allowed construction scheduled for summer to begin six weeks early. Without that early start, construction would still be underway, even with classes now in progress.
As the impact of the pandemic spread, having Carl A. Nelson & Company on the project as construction manager, Ward said, allowed him to focus his energies on the needs of students, staff and the community. He credited the CANCO project team of Project Executive Chris Smith, Project Engineer Jordan Hutcheson and Project Superintendent Wayne Heidbreder, as well as the team of contractors, for giving him the confidence in leaving the construction to experts.
“You have to have trust in the people you’re working with,” Ward said.
With the work now substantially complete, the pandemic still has kept the public out of the building, which due to continued restrictions on large indoor gatherings is yet to be shown off in an open house. So far, only elementary school parents dropping off their children’s school supplies have been able to go inside, and then only briefly.
“I can’t wait until we can open this up and have the community come through and see what we got for $8.7 million,” Ward said. “It’s amazing.”
The $8.7 million project followed a pair of unsuccessful $4 million referendums, and grew from a facilities assessment process led by CANCO, which identified several longstanding and emerging needs for the district. The elementary wing of the K-12 building still used an outdated open classroom concept popular in the 1970s. Enrollment also was a factor in favor of improvements, with enrollment growth to 750 students — much of it due to open enrollment from nearby districts — pushing the need for a three-section elementary school. Work at the junior/senior high school was targeted at being able to accommodate the grade school growth as the increased numbers of younger students advanced to the secondary level, Ward said.
In the role of construction manager, Carl A. Nelson & Company provided pre-construction services such as value engineering, prepared and led the bid process, and managed the construction with an on-site superintendent and office support from a project engineer and project executive.
“Carl A. Nelson’s reputation for doing projects like this was unsurpassed,” Ward said.
Following the successful December 2018 referendum, construction got underway in the spring of 2019. Work at the elementary school included a 10,000-square-foot addition and 21 new or renovated classrooms, which provided space for three classes each in kindergarten through sixth grade; and a 21st century classroom to replace the K-6 library, which was folded into a centralized K-12 media center. Junior/senior high school changes included a 7,100-square-foot, three-classroom addition with a glass façade and separate school-day and activity entrances; relocation of the band room into the choir room, renovation of the band room for use as an art room; relocation of the school office into the addition adjacent to the main entrance; and renovation of the former office space into a classroom.
In addition to meeting space needs, one of the district’s goals for the project was to involve as many local companies as possible in the construction. That goal was fulfilled as six of the nine bid packages were won by companies based in Des Moines or Lee county, while the remaining three went to Iowa companies (one of which has a Des Moines County office).
It was during the bid phase where the benefits of construction management first became apparent. The bid package for general contracting services, Ward said, came in significantly over budget.
“This is where Carl A. Nelson really took care of us,” he said, explaining CANCO’s recommendation to the Board of Education that it take a gamble and re-bid the general contracting package of work. “When we put that back out to bid, it came in well under what we thought.”
The resulting $500,000 in savings enabled the district meet goals it otherwise would not have, including the junior high boys and girls locker rooms, and a completely paved high school parking lot and not just half of one.
“They cared about the total project, and the they cared about the district,” Ward said. “That we were going to get our money’s worth.”
After that, and as the work progressed to completion, CANCO’s reputation and the benefits of construction management continued to pay off. Ward said that through his attendance at construction meetings, there never was an instance where a change was recommended or decision made by CANCO’s team that he disagreed with. He also appreciated that the company’s leadership brought a kids-first approach to the project, and managed the work with the best benefit of students in mind.
Based on the experience, Ward said he would not consider approaching a project without CANCO acting in the construction management agency role.
“I can’t say enough about Carl A. Nelson and the quality of the work,” he said, “and the workmanship that they put into the total project, and taking care of Danville Community School District.”
— Craig Neises, director of marketing