News & Insights

Back-to-School with Great Thinking, and Great Care

This fall, students are returning to class at schools of all types. Among them, notable schools Consigli has recently built: Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., beginning a new chapter this fall; KIPP Academy Boston, an inspiring charter school newly opened in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood; and the independent Buckingham Browne &  Nichols in Cambridge, Mass., with its historic Middle School expanded to include 21st century learning spaces.

Each of these projects has its own story, and illustrates the ways Consigli’s teams think ahead—and think on their feet. All also share common goals—build each school with great care, and in good time to welcome students and staff back.

Here’s what has gone into getting these schools back-to-school.

 “A Special Calling”: Sandy Hook School, Newtown, Conn.


At a recent media event for the new PreK – 4 Sandy Hook School, Newtown’s First Selectman Patricia Llodra voiced the thought of so many, “We would trade, in a minute, this beautiful school for the more familiar and aged Sandy Hook School built in the ‘50s, if we could just change the past.” Tragically though, the need was there, and for literally everyone involved, this project has been one of extraordinary care and partnership.

Consigli’s Director of Connecticut Operations, Mike Walker, talked about the firm’s reaction when the firm was chosen for the project, “We felt it was a special calling. It became a special mission we were embarking on, and we knew our charge.” Now, three years later as Sandy Hook’s students, teachers and staff begin school this fall in the new building, Newtown Superintendent Dr. Joseph V. Erardi, Jr. describes Consigli’s role as “an outstanding partnership.”

It was also a partnership that began unusually early, with Consigli’s role beginning with the project’s 11-month fast-track design phase. In a non-traditional step, the state allowed the school district to hire the construction manager, and the architects, New Haven’s Svigals + Partners, at the same time.

The town’s project manager, Geralyn Hoerauf, AIA from STV|DPM, Inc., outlined the vision for the right team, “The Building Committee’s focus was to build a team of consultants who would have the best interest of the town in mind, be sensitive to the type of project it was, and would work together collaboratively for the life of the project. And that is what happened. This has been an absolutely terrific team. From day one the staff at Consigli and the staff at Svigals worked so well together and never questioned the direction the town gave them or had any issue with all the types of demands placed on them because of the project it was.”

Consigli’s Project Manager Aaron Krueger explained, “We don’t normally get involved this early, being brought on board at the same time as the design team. We were partners from the beginning. We’ve been able, hopefully, to give them what they were looking for, and what will help make the community whole again.”

An intensely community-driven project, Consigli and Svigals worked from the first day with the town’s 55-person subcommittee, made up of teachers, administrative staff, parents and first responders, the OPM and the Public Building and Site committee, to develop the project’s design and construction approach. Designed around a curving “Main Street,” and filled with color, light and art, the vision for the new 88,000 square-foot school was “to offer a warm and comfortable environment for students,” says Erardi.

Among the many special aspects of the project were unusual roles the team played, to prototypical design details they built—from colorful exterior sunshades to tree-shaped structural columns. Consigli’s out-of-the-ordinary management efforts included: holding two subcontractor events to build an early team bond and raise awareness of the project’s unique requirements, managing a strict media protocol and a “closed gate” site, and hosting monthly teacher tours, which needed to be held during the day, but while no work was underway. The team joined the architects in a series of “Kids Build!” events, that allowed students to explore the design and construction process during the project; some of the special artwork and elements created by students during these workshops have been integrated into the new school.

The project’s accelerated schedule required a number of creative strategies, among them an approach to ensure that the expedited steel fabrication planned for the smooth installation of the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing (M/E/P) systems.

Consigli’s Project Superintendent Ed Oloff explained, “The steel was a particular challenge because, while we were completing the steel shop drawings on a fast-track, the building’s M/E/P system coordination was being finalized. We had to make sure, ahead of time, that when each piece of steel showed up on-site, it could go up, right away and accommodate the M/E/P systems installation.

“To make sure that would happen, our BIM Manager, Alicia Cox, used our building information model to track every dimension, every detail, so there were no loose ends. Getting all that information together early was key to keeping the schedule on track, to make sure we ended up where we have, a year and half later, with the school ready on time.”

The school’s design of the curved, community-enhancing “Main Street,” also came with the need for a high level of construction care. Consigli’s Superintendent Steve Flick, responsible for the construction of the school’s interior, elaborated, “The building’s layout is a curved design, with the main corridor on a radius. This added a special challenge to the construction of the interior finishes. For everything from millwork, to outlets and switch plates—all finishes we typically spend day-in and day-out making sure are straight and square—we adapted to fit into a curve.”

There were also aspects of the project that weren’t unusual. Hoerauf reiterated, “The Town’s number one concern was opening the school on time. The fact that Consigli was able to build the schedule in a way so that we were substantially complete in May, when we knew we didn’t have to have the kids in the school until late August, was really important, and reflects just how proactive Consigli was in how they managed the project.

“We had this luxury from early June until August to do all the owner’s work, to make sure the staff could come in early and settle in. Consigli’s attention to schedule was superb. And, we are also able to return money to the state due to the team’s careful fiscal management. The town is extremely happy with the end product.”

As the project wrapped up this August, Krueger was looking forward to the first day of school for the Sandy Hook students, “It feels great to know students will walk in here soon. There have just been several open houses for students and their families—with kids, parents, grandparents. The attendance was awesome and the reaction was too.

“There were kids playing on the playground, kids laughing and running in the halls, all those things you expect to see in a school—and it became a school then. You realize that on that first day of school when all those kids show up, it’s their new home. To know that they’ll get to spend their days here and we helped build it, it’s a wonderful feeling.”

“Work Hard. Be Nice.”: KIPP Academy Boston


“Work hard. Be nice.” These words, painted boldly on a central lobby wall, greet students and visitors to Mattapan’s new KIPP Academy Boston K-8 charter school. This call to students and staff sums up the vision of this system of national, college preparatory charter schools, known for its commitment to seeing its students “to and through” college and career. Now, with the new school’s construction finished and its first school-year underway, this directive also fits the design and construction team’s mission, with the addition of “On schedule. Under budget.”

Before getting to the first day of school this August, Consigli’s team tackled over 35 major construction milestones in 17 months. Notable among them was clearing the site of an old factory, preparing the urban soil for construction with the use of stabilizing Geopiers®, coordinating with the MBTA around the adjacent commuter line, and integrating a cost-and-time-saving pre-engineered gymnasium.

Just off Boston’s Blue Hill Avenue, this new four-story charter school, designed by Boston’s Arrowstreet, is tucked away neatly into a dense neighborhood. Full of brightly painted walls and colorful tiled floors, the academy includes a 4-story classroom wing, administrative offices, four breakout rooms, two science labs, a library, a cafeteria, and gymnasium—which on a recent August afternoon was full of the sounds of an afterschool play program.

The 53,000-square-foot building accommodates 650 students and 80 staff, and has allowed KIPP to expand to serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade. When asked what she thought of her new school, a cute-as-a-button second grader was shy, but smiling, “I really like it.”

Consigli’s Project Manager Darren Peeler explained strategies used in the project’s early days that helped all was ready in time. “The site’s soil needed preparation before we could build the foundation, which is not unusual on urban sites like this. We worked with the owner’s team to develop strategies to mitigate the soil conditions and to limit the amount of soil we would need to remove from the site—which can be expensive and time consuming.”

Peeler continued, “These strategies included using site soil as part of our support of excavation (SOE) method, as well as the use of Geopiers, which stabilize soil for building foundations. Even though there was limited space on site, we made every effort to store and re-use as much soil as possible, to limit the amount we needed to remove. This had a lot of benefits. It saved the school well over $100,000, made for a shorter site preparation period, and reduced disruptions in the neighborhood.”

KIPP’s project representative, Bob Baldwin of QPD, commented on Consigli’s effort to build the new charter school on time and under budget, “This is the second KIPP school built by Consigli in Massachusetts and our experience with the first gave us confidence working with them to tackle the second. They embraced the tight schedule, worked around some site condition challenges, and delivered the building on time without sacrificing quality.”

Keeping a low profile in this busy neighborhood, while being accessible to the local community, was also a balance the team maintained. The use of a delivery board managed daily deliveries, reducing traffic through the neighborhood, and a community message board at the site entrance gave neighbors direct contact to the team on-site, as well as helped get the word out to those interested in applying to work on the project.

Another time-and-cost saving aspect of the project’s design and construction was the use of a 4,500-square-foot pre-engineered gymnasium. Arrowstreet’s innovative design proposal, the gym was supplied by Ceco Building Systems. And, because even the best pre-engineered facility needs oversight to assure they are constructed and integrated smoothly, Consigli’s team reviewed the gym’s design and made recommendations to assure the gym fit the foundation design.

In any building project, a lot of staying on track is about keeping others on track. Assistant Project Manager Aaron Champagne noted that, “When we work on school projects sometimes we are a little like teachers, helping designers, subcontractors and even the client stay on track in the different ways they each contribute to a project’s success.” What did this role look like? It included the team collaborating with Arrowstreet and the window vendor to help ensure the designer’s specified windows were absolutely watertight. And it included guiding everyone, step-by-step, through the laundry list of required documents that comes with a building’s Certificate of Occupancy process, making sure items like the school’s “Evacuation Narrative” was good-to-go, and that subcontractors had sprinkler testing lined up, with opening day in mind.

And when it comes to being nice?

One anecdote comes to mind: When the school had a large load of classroom materials and equipment delivered early to the almost-finished school, the team arranged to have a large storage facility brought to the site and spent a few hot summer evenings moving the materials to a safe, temporary home. Now, all moved in and launched into a busy fall, a KIPP second grade teacher spoke enthusiastically, “We’ve only been here a few weeks and already it feels like home.”

Tight Site, Expansive Thinking: Buckingham Browne & Nichols Middle School


Ready for students earlier this year, Consigli’s recent 20,000-square-foot renovation and addition for Buckingham Browne & Nichols Middle School isn’t Consigli’s largest project, though, for its scale, it was dense with challenges. From how to access a small, residential neighborhood site, to building a new foundation and ground level floor beneath a 19th century building, and integrating a new entrance boardwalk and deck—the team delivered solutions, while also protecting signature campus trees, just a few feet away.

Based in Cambridge, Mass., Buckingham Browne & Nichols’ (BB&N) goal was to improve the school’s existing home—the 19th century Musgrave mansion and its 1960s-era Vaillant building wing—by providing facilities to better support the academic program, as well as unifying space to create a stronger sense of community.

In response, Cambridge’s Austin Architects transformed the L-shaped Middle School by dropping the grade on the south side of the mansion and removing the central masonry linking building, replacing it with a glass-clad addition that unified the buildings and maximized underused basement space. The grade change allowed a new level to be added beneath the Musgrave building, and a new main entry ramp and courtyard deck to be built.

A three-phased project, our work began with a six-month pre-construction process to assist the school in aligning budget, design and project goals. The second phase prepared the site for construction by doing selective demolition and building exploration, and the design of the building’s structural shoring that would support the expansion. In building the project’s schedule, the team took strategic advantage of the school’s spring break to tackle the most intrusive exploratory work, while the six-month building phase took advantage of the school’s quieter summer months.

“While this wasn’t officially a ‘design/build’ project, in effect that is how collaboratively we and Austin Architects worked together,” said Consigli’s Project Engineer Pete Orlando.

“For example, the complicated structural shoring that allowed us to lower the basement level of the Musgrave mansion by ten feet, was developed in a very hands-on way, between the design team’s structural engineer John Born, and our Carpenter Foreman Mike Fountain. Fountain did a lot of exploratory work with Born, to make sure we understood how the existing building was built, before we could plan how we would reframe it,” Orlando explained.

Consigli’s Superintendent Luke Kenbeek noted another plus for the project, the large scope of work being completed by Consigli’s in-house team of workers. “The fact that our in-house self-perform team was building the project’s site work allowed us to pivot very flexibly between different aspects of the work. We could have our carpenters working on concrete formwork in the morning, and then mid-morning work on shoring, and then in the afternoon, be placing concrete. Our daily stand-up meetings were an important part of our managing this flexibility. All told, our in-house team completed the project’s site work, concrete, siding, rough carpentry and millwork installation.”

Early on, planning the project’s site logistics also benefited from a creative proposal by the team. Initially, BB&N hoped that the team could avoid working on the site’s south side, where the school’s historic trees are within a few feet of the building on one side, and a few feet from an adjacent, small play area, on the other. The team’s concern: this would likely extend the project’s schedule, since it would require complex, time-consuming crane work to accomplish. How to solve this site conundrum and create a logistics plan that would allow the team the access to the foundation and linking building, protect the trees, while also completing the work for the spring semester?

“In many ways these trees were as important to our client as the buildings, working around them carefully was central to doing the job well,” said Kenbeek, talking about the two towering trees that have long greeted students and visitors to the Middle School. “Our solution was a temporary road that we could build over the top of the play area. It took just two days to put it in place. It ran right along the edge of where we built the deck and then turned to run behind the Vaillant wing. It allowed us access to the foundations and to the back of the building complex. When the work was complete we removed it. It’s as if it was never there.”

Orlando emphasized other collaborative solutions the team developed, “The site work—which was the largest single component of the project—was another area we worked on in a design/build fashion with the designers. We regraded the entrance area’s new deck in an effort to lessen the impact on the beech trees, and we proposed an alternative which was a great solution to keep clear of the trees’ root systems. We recommended using helical piles to support the new ramp and deck, instead of the original design’s concrete pile system, which needed us to dig holes close to the roots. Helical piles are a lot like large galvanized screws. They allowed us to work around the root systems.”

The team’s work also required sensitivity to the fact that, in general, this was the third construction project on this quiet, tree-lined street in just two years. Keeping a low profile was a high priority for the team. Kenbeek explained, “Between a recent ‘This Old House’ project by WGBH, and a year-long sewer-upgrade project by the City of Cambridge, the neighbors were experiencing some construction fatigue. We stayed behind the scenes as much as possible and worked with the project’s consultants, Cambridge-based CSL, if we needed to let neighbors know about weekend work or short-term street closures.”

Now, with students enjoying their renovated school, what had been a basement crawl space is today 3,200 square feet of new academic and community space, and the redesigned first floor features a 1,600-square-foot Learning Commons, a student and faculty hub for information, assisted research, and technology support. Overall, the school is brimming with new classroom, staff and meeting spaces, while the building’s technology and infrastructure are up to 21st century codes and standards.

With the school’s grand reopening, Middle School Director Mary Dolbear celebrated the project’s successful culmination, “I think we’ve succeeded in creating a space that both has the history in the front of the building and then a real invitation into the future.”