A New Approach to Education: Turning Large School Projects Around Faster, Smarter

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For more than 50 years, Flansburgh Architects of Boston, Massachusetts has been designing award-winning educational projects, some of which encompass a wide range of buildings. “It’s a microcosm of everything,” explains Joseph Marshall, AIA, architect and BIM coordinator at Flansburgh. “Private and international schools with large campuses allow us to design theaters, dormitories, athletic facilities, and a variety of all building types.” While these complex projects allow for diversity in design, they also require dynamic and evolving solutions. Like many firms in the industry, Flansburgh has now made the full transition to BIM in order to ensure smoother collaboration, both internally and externally. From its work on two important projects the firm reaffirmed its preference for Vectorworks software.


Holbrook School image courtesy of Flansburgh

“When I joined seven years ago, we were predominantly still doing everything in two dimensions,” says Marshall, “but there were a few of us in the company who were working on projects that required more complex solutions. By digitally creating buildings three dimensionally, we were able to make better design decisions.” Over the years, Marshall and his colleagues started to integrate new components of the latest Vectorworks Architect releases into their workflow to see how BIM could impact both their firm’s approach and their ability to share information with contractors or consultants. The process really took off with two recent major school projects in their home state.


Holbrook School image courtesy of Flansburgh

“Holbrook School was one of the first projects where we used BIM with a full consultant team,” says architect and BIM coordinator, Brian Hores, AIA. As the first new full Pre-K through 12 public school in Massachusetts, the building incorporates all of the district’s needs into one location. This project includes a gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria and elementary and upper school academic wings in a single building, constructed around the existing school that will be demolished in 2017. The Massachusetts School Building Authority project utilized a construction manager-at-risk process, bringing the contractor into the early design stages and mandating the use of some BIM modeling for all involved. The specifics were left to Hores and his team. “We spent time up front, trying to devise solutions for what would be the most efficient use of the BIM model for the engineers, the contractors and for us. We focused on those areas where we would reap the best reward from the coordination.”


Holbrook School image courtesy of Flansburgh

Having the ability to combine all trades into one building model during early phases of design helped to prevent problems in the future. The model was shared with the construction manager and subcontractors leading up to construction for coordination purposes. This approach eliminated surprises, aided in maintaining the schedule and most importantly, avoided a breakdown in communication across all parties from designers to builders. Weekly meetings were held between the design team, contractor and installers during the project to review the completeness of the BIM model and resolve conflicts directly with the Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing and structural contractors prior to receiving submittals. “For this fast-tracked project, by the time we completed the construction documents, the foundations were in and the steel was already going through shop drawing review,” says Hores. His team kept up with the fast pace by importing all the IFC models from the contractors, no matter which BIM software they were using, into their Vectorworks model. From there, the Flansburgh team used Solibri to check for errors and make necessary modifications, allowing every detail of the building’s system to be analyzed and solutions to be quickly implemented.


Holbrook School HVAC model image courtesy of Flansburgh

Marshall saw similar benefits with a design-build project for St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts, which began shortly after Holbrook. “We were already in the mindset of utilizing the BIM setup from Holbrook, but the new version of Vectorworks offered Project Sharing, which allowed us to streamline the in-house work processes,” Marshall recalls. Using a unified 3D coordination model allowed the design-build team to catch errors before the drawings were issued. He continues, “We’ve noticed a big difference in how we can communicate during meetings with the use of the model to review and to flag issues.”


St. John’s Preparatory School image courtesy of Flansburgh

Theintegration of BIM models also played a crucial role in coordinating with stakeholders at St. John’s. Flansburgh’s master plan for the campus included a new STEM Building and renovated middle school to accommodate increased enrollment, as well as a new Wellness Center. The building will house an 8,000-square-foot pool house with an eight-lane indoor pool, a 30,000-square-foot field house with an indoor track, elevated track, fitness space, locker rooms, gallery space, a meditation room, two multipurpose rooms and offices for wellness and athletic staff. The school wanted a space that would cater to students’ overall wellbeing, so the Flansburgh team used standard physical models to help them visualize and give feedback on the relationship of spaces. “From there, the preferred scheme was brought into a Vectorworks 3D model,” says Marshall, “which aided in the further design development.”


St. John’s Preparatory School image courtesy of Flansburgh

Once the BIM model was completed, stakeholders could quickly see how their input affected the design and get a true sense of the finished product. “Using the visualization tools early on lets everyone envision the building. Some of the renderings look as good as photographs,” Marshall notes. The STEM building and middle school were successfully completed to meet the new enrollment goals within one year, and the Wellness Center is currently under construction. Officials at the school used the renderings for fundraising purposes, and invited Marshall and principal architect, Kent Kovacs, to use the project as a teaching tool, introducing the students to architecture and the efficiency of the BIM design process.


St. John’s Preparatory image courtesy of Flansburgh

Both Brian Hores and Joseph Marshall are confident that Flansburgh’s successful utilization of BIM will become the standard with all future projects. Vectorworks will make that possible. “We have been using Vectorworks effectively for a long time,” says Marshall. “One of the things we’ve always loved is its ability as an all-in-one design tool. It’s kind of the Swiss Army knife of design and architectural software.”

Why you should implement a BIM Project Execution Plan and how to do it.
The industry increasingly calls for the creation and use of digital data during the design, procurement, construction and operation of buildings. As a result, staying on top of all uses of such data, as well as communications between project stakeholders and how their workflows affect each other, have become more important than ever. The eBook, Success Doesn’t Happen by Chance: BIM Project Execution Planning by Jeffrey W. Ouellette, Assoc. AIA, IES, vice chair of the National BIM Standard – United States® Version 3 Project Committee and senior product specialist at Vectorworks, Inc., walks readers through key benefits and components of a BIM Project Execution Plan (BIM PxP).

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