Journey approaches signature high school project with community mind-set

July 1, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Journey Group.

Future Jefferson High School students likely won’t know it, but there will always be a history lesson of a different sort beneath their building.

It sits on ground purchased by Journey Group more than 30 years ago, when it was envisioned as the company’s potential future home.

“We’re glad we didn’t end up building our office there because ultimately the land is going to help build our community in a bigger way instead,” CEO Randy Knecht said.

Over time, the property owned grew to about 200 acres in an area east of Marion Road between Maple and Madison streets. And when Journey leaders learned that a task force for the Sioux Falls School District considered northwest Sioux Falls the right place for a new high school, the leaders decided they agreed.

“It did make the most sense,” Knecht said. “We had other interested groups looking at it, but we knew it would be best suited for a high school with Southeast Tech and the Career and Technical Education Academy and New Tech High nearby.”

While the school district had options for locations, “the synergy that whole educational area has is unique,” said Dr. Brian Maher, superintendent.

“And now with the change in direction at University Center, they’re not far away, and we’ve been able to bring New Tech into the same building as Jefferson, so it just has made a lot of sense.”

The site also was superior as far as access and utilities, added Jeff Kreiter, the district’s director of operational services.

“It will probably be our best school as far as getting in and out, and getting there,” he said. “Everything worked out well.”

The new school also will bring enhancements to the infrastructure in the area, with improvements to Marion Road and Terry Avenue before the new building opens.

“We’re happy and proud to have part of our land be used to continue that mission of educating for the future,” Knecht said. “We’re really excited about it.”

Building begins

The land deal would become just the first chapter for Journey’s involvement with the future Jefferson High School.

The company submitted a proposal through a competitive process for the right to serve as construction manager at risk and was selected.

“We conducted interviews and had great candidates, but Journey rose to the top for a variety of reasons, including quality and the costs they presented to the district,” Kreiter said.

“I’m sure they were thinking of the community when they put that together, and that was a great thing for us as well.”

Journey views Jefferson High School as more than just a building project, said Joe Niewohner, who became the project manager.

“We felt we had the experience and the team to bring to this project and the tools to make it successful, but what we wanted them to understand the most is that we’re not just there to build a project,” he said.

“We realized the importance to the school district. It’s a signature project for Sioux Falls. And the community has been so supportive, we wanted to be part of it.”

A groundbreaking officially was held a couple of weeks ago, but work on the project has been going on since late 2018.

By using the construction manager at risk approach, Journey’s team has been brought in from the start as design decisions are being made.

“It’s been 30 years since we built a high school, so we wanted the best product put together for the community, and having a contractor there helping develop the plans as we evaluate different systems and work with the design team allows us to have the best value for the facility,” Kreiter said.

“This is really a fast track. If we were doing a design-bid process, I don’t think we’d be able to be where we’re at. We’re going to hit our marks because of the approach we’re taking.”

The approach allows for a phased design, Knecht agreed.

“This is a more than 300,000-square-foot, two-story building, so it’s big, and what CMR allows us to do is once we get the footprint established we can create bid packages and get those started and begin the project itself while design is still being finished.”

Because of the condensed timeframe needed to open for classes in the fall of 2021, Journey’s team met early to identify possible obstacles or constraints the team could face.

“We laid out some milestones through the process that the team will work toward,” Niewohner said. “It’s honestly been very smooth. The team works really well together, and everyone has met their obligations so far, so we’ve been able to hit the ground running in the last few weeks.”

Site grading has started, and the bid packages are starting to go out.

Next-generation building

“It’s going to be a little different from other high schools,” Niewohner said. “It’s still designed to the same standards as far as finishes, but the layout is going to be more efficient and collaborative for students, so it’s exciting to be part of that.”

The building will be laid out in learning suites to make it seem smaller and more accessible to students. They might be grouped with others of the same grade level or a common department within the suite, for instance.

“And there are breakout areas for students to collaborate or work on projects,” Kreiter said. “The restrooms are right there, so they’re not moving around, and it minimizes traffic time with more time for learning.”

There are enhancements to security coming too, he added, although “you may not notice walking through because it will be very welcoming and open.”

Consider the design change, for instance, from Lincoln High School to Roosevelt and Washington high schools, Maher said.

“You saw a change in structure because a generation had passed. And now there’s also been a generation that’s passed, so you anticipate changes. But fundamentally, there is an opportunity for more free flow of students and staff, and a different approach to safety and security measures than would have taken place 25 or 30 years ago.”

The gym also will be a different design, with a top-loaded layout that allows for a running or walking track above where visitors will enter and then walk-down bleachers to the gym floor.

A core library also is designed for the middle of the academic area, and a performing arts space.

The building is on track for geotechnical work to start this month and for precast and steel to begin in October.

“Our goal is to have a portion of it enclosed by the end of the year, so we can continue on some of the inside during the winter,” Niewohner said. “We’re meeting weekly with the school district and design team and have ongoing communication with all involved to make sure things keep moving.”

It’s a level of professionalism that Kreiter said is adding significant value.

“I’m glad we have them on board,” he said. “They’ve been an integral part of the design process and really brought a lot of expertise as we’ve vetted options talking about schedule and quality. If they weren’t there, we wouldn’t have that background knowledge and data we need to make those decisions.’

That’s a sound endorsement for Maher.

“I would be easily impressed, but Jeff has an unbelievable background trained as an architect who has done building projects for years, so this isn’t new to him,” he said. “And for Jeff to be impressed by Journey Group gives me a great deal of comfort.”

Journey also plans to turn the process of building the school into as much of a learning experience as possible.

“We see the project as the opportunity to create an active classroom,” Knecht said. “We’ve talked about bringing kids in while we’re in construction to see what construction is all about and the types of careers they can pursue in this industry. We’re just happy to be part of it.”

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Journey approaches signature high school project with community mind-set

“It’s been 30 years since we built a high school, so we wanted the best product put together for the community.” Here’s the inside story of Jefferson High School: Where it has been, where it’s going and what it’s built upon.

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