Ryan Savage has been with Holland Construction since the mid-2000s. Over his tenure, he has risen to the top of the Education and Municipal division and sat down with our team to discuss some of his experience in the Education market.
Ryan, tell me about your background and some of the projects you've worked on during your career.
I started at Holland in 2006 as an intern and started working on school projects a few years later. These days, I am the Project Executive leading all our Education and Municipal projects, including K-12 schools, higher education, parks and recreation, libraries, governmental, and public safety projects.
What was it about Education and Municipal projects that sparked your interest?
The process of working with publicly bid prime contractors, the design team, and an owner was interesting to me, and I was allowed here at Holland to learn the nuances of how to do that correctly. I was particularly interested in the delivery method where I could sit on the same side of the table as a board, community, or school district. I latched on to that first and then started seeing the bigger picture of how these projects substantially impacted the community.
Is there a difference between how you communicate with our clients who are in that education market, like a School Superintendent, versus someone who is a developer of a multi-family residential property?
The developer or owner that is building every day knows more about construction than most public entities would. At a school, for instance, that administration is hired, and their daily job is to educate children. It's not to build buildings, develop buildings, work with design teams, or deal with contractors. They need a construction partner on their side of the table to manage this process and ensure they deliver what was promised to the community and what their students and constituents deserve.
Do you think of yourself and your team as mentors or consultants to people operating outside their core competency? Do you almost need to teach them the Construction business?
Correct. And that's the best part of that delivery method is that you are on the same side of the table with the design team and with the district or the owner, whoever the owner may be, to get the construction done based on what the client wants. You're partners as opposed to being on the other side of the table.
Put on your school administrator hat for a minute. What are some of the challenges that they should be thinking about when they embark on a construction project these days?
I would be focused on three things: Security and safety are number one. Having a construction manager that's engaged and understands how the district operates is critical. Second is that it's essential to have a partner who has experience working on an active school campus while you are building or remodeling and can execute the construction alongside a functioning school. Finally, you want a construction manager who can manage all of the parties involved and know the best way forward for the district in whatever obstacles may arise.
What one recommendation would you make to a school that is installing some additional safety protocols these days?
Secure entry vestibules are essential; virtually every school we work with has them.
We have worked on a few LEED-certified projects, like Wolf Branch Middle School. Is this a macro trend that you see with many schools and what expertise does Holland have in building LEED-certified schools?
Some of the funding that schools receive is tied to a requirement to have LEED certification. It's becoming standard in the construction industry, not just in this market. Design teams incorporate green aspects into their design, whether it's seeking certification or not.
In order to receive that certification, there is a lot of paperwork and documentation throughout the process, from the start of design all the way to close out. It's important to have a construction manager with the experience of knowing what we're doing today and what we will have to document tomorrow to make sure that everything is ready to submit to the USGBC to get that certification.
We have strength in this area in that we know the documentation process and we've completed it several times.
What are some of the design trends that you see in schools?
I'm seeing a trend toward breakout and meeting spaces that aren't necessarily a classroom but where a teacher can get a group of students together, or a group of students can get together and interact with one another to hold a study session or class. Along with the secure entry vestibules I mentioned earlier, I also see more storm shelters. A lot of the gymnasiums, or any area really, are becoming hardened, rated storm structures.
How are schools in areas with a growing population preparing themselves for growth?
A lot of the schools are planning for growth. With new construction, many schools are allocating for future planned additions. That allows us to do the site work and utilities and know where additional spaces will be built. Then there are additions to projects we built just a few years ago. We are currently engaged with a district on our fourth project together, which is a gym addition, and it is going where it was planned. It was all part of the master plan we were involved with many years ago.
What do you find particularly satisfying or redeeming about your job of building schools?
A school is a community gathering point. It is truly a building for a community. You're not building it just for any one person. A school does affect virtually every member of that community. Whether you have kids in school there or you know, or your neighbor's kids go there, it affects every single person.
It's also fun to see kids at active campuses as we currently have at Dorris Intermediate, Caseyville Elementary, or Red Bud Elementary where the construction is visible from their recess. So you get to see the kids leaning up against the fence and looking at all the equipment going by, and I have kids too, and they're like, "oh my gosh, look at these tractors! Look at these trucks." They're amazed by everything that's going on, which is cool. I just saw a tweet from Caseyville Elementary that said “Our recess is better than yours”, with pictures. It’s incredible.
If there's one piece of advice you could give to a school superintendent or the person managing the construction process for the school, what would it be?
I would hire a construction manager you know is on your side of the table and acting on the district's behalf. Starting with preconstruction, understand the budget requirements and must-haves of the project versus nice-to-haves. Then make sure that the construction manager has a strong reputation and will hustle to get as many bids as possible to keep your costs down. You also want to make sure the construction manager will be on-site during construction every day, looking at safety, quality, schedule, and budget all on behalf of the school district to make sure that you're getting what you want.
Conduct your due diligence and know the firm's reputation inside and out. Reputation is built on experience, track record, and client referrals. Take the time to call a district or two they've worked for and ask about that experience and what they provided throughout the process.