Lean Solutions for Successful Schools

by Balfour Beatty

On two North Texas elementary school projects, our project teams are demonstrating industry-leading virtual design and construction (VDC) capabilities with prefabrication and project modeling, saving our client both critical time and the public funds with which they’ve been entrusted.

On our North Texas education projects and beyond, our teams are solutions-oriented and fully integrated with our national expertise, leveraging the best VDC and lean construction advantages to complete projects on accelerated schedules, trim budgets and operate with repeatable and dependable quality control.

Prefabricating two schools with one design

Denton Independent School District’s (Denton ISD) Elementary Schools 27 and 28 are both Balfour Beatty projects in collaboration with design partner Pfluger Architects. The two schools are nearly perfect mirror images of each other. In early planning with our design partner and the school district, our team identified an opportunity to generate significant cost and schedule savings by prefabricating much of the schools’ outer shells.

After manufacture by prefabrication partner BakerTriangle Prefab, our teams installed the panels in a process akin to a frontier barn-raising – that is, if barns came with pre-installed windows, pre-veneered brick and equipped for modern building infrastructure.

“Some prefabrication work is limited to finished exterior sheathing, but these panels from BakerTriangle are a finished product with brick, glass, metal panels and predetermined penetration points,” says Project Engineer Mitchell Disbrow. “They ultimately save the entire project team a lot of time, effort and money by reducing the final finish work. Instead, it’s a perfect fit every time.”

One of the most immediate benefits of prefabricated exterior walls is an accelerated time to building dry-in, often by as much as five weeks. While the panels are being manufactured by our prefabrication partner, the on-site project team and trade partners prepare for a smooth and seamless installation. A building that might have taken weeks to dry-in can be sheathed and protected from the elements in just one week, as the team accomplished on the Denton elementary schools.

The team also prepares for a perfect fit by closely collaborating with the client and design team to determine any needed wall penetrations and build them into the prefabricated panels’ design.

“We work hard to capture as much of the exterior penetrations as possible for things like lighting, speakers, fire alarms, card readers and more,” Mitchell adds. “Identifying these access points early enables BakerTriangle to weatherproof them in advance.”

When the team installs a wall, with few exceptions, it comes with every access panel, window fixture and penetration point it requires, reducing the need for costly rework during construction or the possibility of introducing leaks by creating access as an afterthought. And because the panels are installed by way of crane lifting, the project requires less specialized heavy equipment and much less scaffolding, presenting further budget savings and fewer opportunities for safety hazards.

“Building a school with prefabricated walls is truly a team effort between all involved,” Mitchell adds. “We work to understand what the client wants, collaborate with the architects to make it happen and confer with our VDC teams to check for conflicts. Our key to success is to ask the right questions as early as possible so we can build-in the answers.”

As the mirrored designs of Elementary Schools 27 and 28 also demonstrate, repeatability is another significant advantage of prefabrication enjoyed by school districts and other clients seeking to limit design costs. Prefabricated walls ensure a perfect fit, so when a design works, it works. By mirroring and otherwise manipulating a tried-and-tested design to suit a particular parcel of land, Denton ISD now has a reliable and repeatable template for building successful new schools.

Measure twice, cut once

On Elementary School 27 (ES 27), the team also deployed a GPS-enabled Topcon rover, a handheld rod-shaped device, to map the jobsite as accurately as possible. Rather than relying on a more traditional wooden stake method, the teams and trade partners worked from precise coordinates in collaboration with our VDC team’s Building Information Modeling (BIM) and AutoCAD models of the project.

While walking the site early in construction, even before foundation work is complete, the team maps and labels digital survey points that correspond to ground penetrations for water, stormwater, sewer, electrical lines and more. Later in construction, as interactions between multiple on-site trades become more intricate and more frequent, the rover-generated map provides a reliable record of precisely where these penetrations occur.

“Rover mapping helps us coordinate work between our team and our trade partners, ensuring one trade’s finished work isn’t damaged in the course of another’s,” Mitchell says. “Every adverse Interaction avoided represents both time and money saved in rework, and even small delays and additional costs can add up quickly.”

Mapping a jobsite on precision coordinates is also a quality control measure in and of itself. Wood stakes can get knocked down, moved or sighted based on the subjective perspective of the person hammering them into the ground. Instead, placement of utility sleeves, wall framing and foundation piers based on GPS coordinates follows an incredibly low-tolerance standard of precision.

“Using the rover helped us get ‘out of the ground’ as quickly and precisely as possible,” Mitchell adds. “We capture the jobsite ground conditions accurately and early, but the benefits pay dividends throughout the entire project lifecycle as we ensure design adherence and prevent trade conflicts.”

Template for success

As stewards of taxpayer funds, education clients care deeply about responsible design and construction choices, and most projects have imperative completion targets to prepare districts for future growth and upcoming school years. Any effort to save our clients’ time and accelerate school project schedules counts, whether through the repeatable success of prefabrication or GPS rover precision.

Denton Elementary Schools 27 and 28 are scheduled for completion in preparation for the 2024-25 school year, thanks in no small part to the dedicated and precise work by Mitchell, the entire project team and our prefabrication partners at BakerTriangle. On these schools and beyond, the entire team is demonstrating a dependable template for successful education construction.