Stalwart Technology Center Rises in Baytown
On an eight-acre tract next to Alamo Elementary School in Baytown, Texas, Goose Creek Independent School District’s new technology center is nearing completion, despite numerous challenges that include rain delays, budget issues and poor soil conditions.
This $13.3-million facility will house $2.5 million in new technology for the district and serve as the “brain center” for Goose Creek ISD, which covers 158 sq miles and is host to 16 elementary schools, five junior high schools and two high schools.
“The reason the district is building the data center is our technology facility was housed in an old skating rink [since the early 1990s], and we continue to outgrow the needs there,” explains Matt Flood, chief technology officer of GCISD. “We finally decided, it’s time—the district needed a place to house its network operations center.”
A New Face
The 32,400-sq-ft, two-story building will feature 3,900 sq ft of training rooms on the first floor, where teachers can learn how to incorporate technology and software into their classrooms, and a 2,000-sq-ft network operating center with servers on the second floor. It also will house a 1,900-sq-ft technology work area and nearly 3,500 sq ft of storage space.
Once complete, the data center will allow GCISD to store student and teacher data within the district, rather than relying on a third-party data facility.
“It also encompasses a warehouse for receiving technology equipment, and office space, both dedicated offices for those that work in their office eight hours a day, and kind of an open-cubicle space for our computer technicians and teaching staff,” Flood says.
The facility will serve as GCISD’s emergency operations center in the event of a hurricane or other emergencies, adds Dowen Sims, business development and community affairs at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN), the project’s program manager.
“One of the things about this project that’s actually pretty unique is this is sort of the new face of the district going forward, the next generation of what they want to do—so this looks like a Fortune 100 company facility,” says Bob Richardson, executive director of project management for Durotech, the project’s general contractor.
Baytown, located just east of Houston, is growing dramatically, Richardson notes. “So the district is responding with a different type of facility here,” he says. “This project is both complementary to and enhances the surrounding community and the adjacent elementary school.”
A Different Approach
GCISD is now in its fourth year of working on this job, much longer than anticipated, Flood notes. “We spent a good year and a half, two years working on design elements with the architectural team [Huckabee] before we went out to bid with the construction portion of it, and even when we went out to bid, we bid it out three different times—and we kept tweaking the design before we selected a contractor to build.”
The first two times the project was bid, submitting contractors couldn’t make it within the district’s budget, explains Richardson. Durotech was selected based on its bid on the third round, although the bid package was still not within the district’s budget, he says.
“But we were able to demonstrate to the district that the costs that the owner was receiving in their bids were accurate because there were certain things which needed to be added to the project. They were on the plans but had not initially been accounted for in the original budget,” he says.
With that new information, GCISD adjusted the final cost of the project and forged ahead.
Construction began on the technology center in July 2017, just a month and a half before Hurricane Harvey hit.
“With Harvey being the worst [flooding] we’d ever experienced in the Houston area, we actually saw the water level where our building was going to be,” says Eric Salley, project manager with Durotech.
With the elevation of the first floor slab at 36.5 ft above sea level, the building pad, which was in place when Harvey struck, remained high and dry above the flood—but it was surrounded by water, Richardson says.
Both Harvey and a relatively rainy 2018 have resulted in weather delays of about 30 days over the course of construction, Salley says. Resequencing was crucial, as the contract end date was immovable.
“When we started doing drywall and finishing and painting, we ideally like to do that when the climate is perfect,” Salley explains. “However, it didn’t affect the quality—it just meant working in a little different conditions than we would normally work in.”
The bad weather also disrupted the team’s ability to get some materials to the jobsite, Salley adds. Finding materials for subgrade work immediately after Harvey was difficult because sand and gravel pits, for example, were full of water.
“These are massive holes we’re talking about, so it took them weeks to pump them out. We had to reach farther and farther to get materials in some cases to get the work done,” he says.
The building itself is designed to take a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane, with winds up to 140 mph, not only in its power grid, but also structurally.
“There are three components to the building. One is a structural CMU block. It’s not a normal CMU block, it’s structural block. There are 77 rebars that are vertical through it; every cell of the CMU block is grout-filled and there’s bonding every four courses,” Richardson explains. Crews installed 15,264 structural CMU blocks throughout the project. More than 127 tons of structural steel support the classroom and teaching areas.
“The third part is actually a pre-engineered area, which is for storage,” Richardson says.
Durotech’s team has placed more than 5,400 cu yd of concrete, more than 48,500 bricks and 7,000 burnished CMU blocks at the technology center. “The burnished CMU, brick, metal panels—those are pretty much the three main materials you’ll see on the outside of the building, in addition to the storefront glass and aluminum,” Salley says.
“On the interior, you’ll see a lot of durable finishes with polished concrete floors, long-wear carpets. We’ve got some clouds in some of the training and staff areas made out of acoustical ceilings to provide a little visual relief, and some nice open work spaces on the first floor and second floor.”
The team ultimately identified slurry piers as the best method, both financially and structurally, to stabilize the building. Crews installed 107 slurry piers up to 60 ft deep and 30 in. in diameter.
“We started conducting all of our testing and exploration of the subgrade prior to having the notice to proceed and the contract in place, because we knew we needed time to come up with those items,” Salley adds. “So that was a very big component of our preconstruction planning.”
Durotech and LAN offered the owner just over $1 million in post-bid value engineering, which brought the project within budget.
Other VE options that saved money included roofing and exterior skin changes and how power comes into the building. “The plan originally called for using multiple power poles across the street-facing side of the building, but we were able to bring it in behind the building less intrusively at the transformer and through a duct bank,” Salley says.
“The air conditioning system is specially built for data centers. It’s what’s called ‘hot-aisle containment.’ If you imagine these pieces of equipment, they all need cooling, and they’re all mounted in racks. So, what we’ve got are modular rack-shaped and sized units that provide the cooling at the point of need,” Salley explains.
Part of the hot-aisle containment means that all the heat is encapsulated, resulting in a more efficient system to cool and control the heat-load change to the overall facility, he says. “One of the things we did here is we have an in-house virtual design manager, where we can build computer models of everything in the building in 3D before we build it,” Richardson says.
The team modeled the computer locations to ensure the hot-aisle containment and cooling was installed properly and to determine the precise locations of all the floor drains, Richardson explains. “There was even a specific and highly detailed model built of all those data areas,” he adds.
This planning also ensured that the district can expand up to double the current capacity of equipment racks, given that the infrastructure is already in place. No major construction would be needed for an expansion.
A natural-gas generator on site provides back-up power. “But we’ve also got the infrastructure in place, when the district is ready, to add a diesel generator so that you have another source of power besides just the one generator,” Salley says.
Work is progressing on time and on budget, Flood adds. The district is in the process of purchasing the technology, and crews should begin moving it into the building in mid- to late August.
Durotech’s team has worked 255,840 man hours as of late July, with no safety incidents. “The formal dedication of the building is on August 12, so we’re about 92% complete [as of July 20],” Richardson says.