Former Charles County, Md., Public Schools Superintendent James Richmond long envisioned a science-focused outer space-themed high school in the town of Waldorf, but for several years it looked like the project would never leave the launch pad.

Derk Jeffrey, principal in charge at Stantec, says Richmond and others championed the concept, drawing ideas, resources and support from companies, organizations and government agencies in science fields, including the Space Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Jeffrey’s team began work in 2007, but after an initial round of hard bids came in well above budget, the project struggled to find a path forward.

Jeffrey says adopting a construction manager at-risk delivery model—which was beginning to gain traction among government agencies in Maryland at the time—proved to be the winning formula. A resulting partnership between construction manager HESS Construction + Engineering Services and Stantec helped the county bring the project back on budget while retaining Richmond’s vision. The team broke ground on the 285,000-sq-ft facility in August 2012.

“The builder was able to come in early and address any issues,” Jeffrey says. “There were things we discovered early that would have been a nightmare to deal with under traditional delivery methods.”

The preconstruction phase was extended three months in order for the team to incorporate owner-approved value engineering recommendations into the design. Use of BIM during design and preconstruction proved instrumental in ensuring a high standard of work, particularly for above-ceiling trades. Several conflicts with steel bearing and ductwork elevations were prevented in the early months of construction, allowing the team to absorb the three-month delay.

With capacity for 1,920 students, St. Charles High School vertically stacks four academic houses on four floors, containing a total of 72 teaching stations. Among the facility’s standout features is a 60-ft-dia digital dome theater that seats approximately 150 students and uses laser-projection technology to generate images across the dome structure.

The design is the first of its kind at a U.S. public school, according to the team. Furnishing and installation of the dome required all work on the school project to be 100% complete within the area of the dome itself. HESS crafted scopes of work for trades working within that space to complete their work early. The specialty contractor also required access and lifts to be placed prior to installation. HESS scoped that work at bid time to clarify it as a project requirement.

The facility also features Science on a Sphere—a globe that provides students with visual instruction about science, the Earth and the environment. Developed by NOAA, the system uses computers and video projectors to display animated, three-dimensional data on to a 6-ft-dia sphere.

St. Charles High School also features a wide range of green technology, including a partially green living-vegetated roof; geothermal heating and cooling; automatic light control systems and occupancy sensors; solar preheat for domestic hot water; reflective cool roof systems; water efficient landscaping with pervious paving; interior finishes with high recycled content; and an energy management system. The project is seeking LEED Silver certification.

The $72-million project was substantially complete in July 2014 in advance of the 2014-2015 school year. “The county tried for a long time to get this project going,” says Justin Fisher, project executive at HESS Construction. “We feel great satisfaction knowing we could help the county get this school under construction.”

St. Charles High School

Waldorf, Md.

Key Players
: Charles County Public Schools – Planning and Construction
Architect: Stantec
Construction Manager: HESS Construction + Engineering Services
Structural Engineer: Adtek
Civil Engineer: Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani
MEP Engineer: OLDS
Commissioning Agent: Kibart Consulting Engineers