The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 26, 2020 1:00 am

SACS eyes new ideas for school

District plans $169 million overhaul to Homestead

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Growth spurts and makeovers got Homestead High School to 50.

And now – as the building marks its golden anniversary this year – leaders of Southwest Allen County Schools are plotting a $169 million transformation that should carry Homestead through another five decades.

Rebuilding Homestead – about 50% will be new construction – is the biggest project that the 7,685-student district has taken on, and the approach is atypical.

SACS is using a strategy it tested with the recent expansion and renovation at Lafayette Meadows Elementary School. It is combining two project delivery methods: construction manager at risk and progressive design-build.

The “at risk” designation means the construction manager – the Hagerman Group – is taking on the risk of the contracts with the construction companies working on the project, said Jim Coplen, the SACS employee acting as project manager. For Homestead, Hagerman will manage the portion of the construction not related to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing aspects.

That will be handled by Performance Services using the progressive design-build method, meaning the firm conducts its design work under the guidance of SACS, Hagerman and the project's architects instead of doing the design independently, Coplen said.

Coplen previously served as the district's business manager for more than 20 years. His tenure included significant interaction with all building projects.

The collaborative approach during the planning process should make for smoother construction, which is expected to start this year with the initial phases of site work.

“With the number of design and construction professionals on board for the early stages of the project, we feel it is our best chance at getting a good design with minimal change orders/construction delays on the project,” Coplen said.

Under the traditional design-bid-build method, there is no contractor input in the design because the school district works solely with the architectural and engineering firms to develop complete construction documents, said Rob Young, Hagerman's vice president of business development. Those documents are then distributed to general contractors, who provide a bid for the entire project based on those plans, he added.

State law determines which delivery methods – contractual agreements indicating how projects will be accomplished – can be used on public projects. Design build has been available in Indiana since 2005, but construction manager at risk became an option more recently, according to Performance Services.

Hagerman representatives are unaware of another northeast Indiana school district using such a blended delivery method.

This project is the first significant change to Homestead since the former Woodside Middle School was renovated to house the Ninth Grade Academy, which opened in the mid-2000s.

The work, which is targeted to finish summer 2024, will result in an essentially new building. Although the district initially believed new construction would make up 75% to 80% of the school, Coplen said latest figures show it likely will account for 50% to 55% with renovations to the rest.

SACS is authorized to borrow up to $169 million for the project.

The current design is for about 715,000 square feet to accommodate 3,000 students, Coplen said. The existing Homestead serves about 2,500 students in about 620,000 square feet.

Homestead opened in 1970 with 600 students in about 177,000 square feet. It is the district's only high school.

District leaders have credited their ability to complete the project without changing the tax rate or raising local taxes to good financial management, a good maintenance program and retiring debt.

Although Homestead isn't the first Allen County high school to undergo renovations in recent years – Fort Wayne Community Schools and East Allen County Schools also have upgraded buildings – Bob Wede of Performance Services said Homestead's complexity makes it unique.

Plans call for demolishing the northern third of the building and the Ninth Grade Academy and adding new portions on existing parking lots on Homestead's south and east sides.

Performance Services must not only design mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for the new Homestead but also ensure those dynamic systems remain operable for students and staff during construction, said Wede, business development manager.

Performance Services considers the progressive design-build method as ideal for this project because the complex renovation requires expansion and integration of existing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

Representatives from SACS, Hagerman, Performance Services, MKM Architecture + Design and CSO architects meet often at Homestead. Staff members, including Principal Park Ginder, contribute to discussions.

“The number of contributors to this meeting is growing as the project design moves along,” Coplen said.

Faculty input is invaluable, said Jay Wilhelm, a project executive at Hagerman. For instance, he said, the athletic director helped a team of about 20 people understand entrance and exit needs for the competition gym.

“You only have one chance to do it right,” Wilhelm said.

Performance Services agreed that staff feedback is “extremely helpful” because employees can identify problems, such as perpetual cold spots, Wede said.

“They're the end user,” Wede said. “If they're not comfortable, then we have a problem. And they know the building better.”

SACS expects the dual delivery system will save time and money once construction begins, and Hagerman is helping manage costs. Through the normal design progression – from schematic design to design development then construction documents – the company is providing a full budget, said Young, the Hagerman executive.

“This allows all involved the opportunity to make adjustments, if necessary, as the level of design increases,” Young said.

Per state law, Hagerman can perform up to 20% of the construction work if it is the lowest responsive bidder for the portion the company intends to perform, said Coplen, the SACS administrator spearheading the project.

Hagerman also will award bids from subcontractors. Although those bids won't need school board approval, the board will need to approve financing for the project, which will be based on the value of those contracts, Coplen said.

As with other school projects, Hagerman plans to turn the Homestead construction into a learning opportunity. The worksite makes subjects like math and physics more real and exposes students to career opportunities, Young said.

Planning has moved out of the schematic design phase and into the design development phase, which narrows in on more details leading to generating the construction documents, Coplen said.

The district expects the construction phase will be inconvenient to students and staff but hopes it will go smoothly with the right staging, Coplen said.

Wede credited district staff, including Superintendent Phil Downs and the school board, for incorporating collaboration into the planning process. The shared knowledge will save time and money, he said.

“If it isn't a strong team, you're going to have challenges,” Wede said. “We feel very positive about this project.”

At a glance

Homestead High School History

1970: Originally 177,000 square feet, Homestead opened with 600 students. There was no senior class in the first year. The original 155-acre property was purchased in 1962 for $80,000.

1989: The renovation of 50,000 square feet and new construction of 100,000 square feet were completed in March 1990. These improvements and expansions were necessary because of increased enrollment and educational programs.

1998: Renovations increasing the total square footage to 408,000 were completed to accommodate the increased enrollment.

2005: Renovations to the former Woodside Middle School were completed to accommodate the Ninth Grade Academy.

Source: SouthwestAllen County Schools

On the web

To stay updated with the Homestead High School project, go to and click the "Construction" icon.

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