Keeping Up with School District Growth in Grain Valley

May 15, 2024

Parking lots don’t seem like a big deal. They’re pretty much everywhere in suburban America, and they mostly all look alike. Some pavement, some paint, some trees or greenery spread sparsely throughout. Most of us don’t think much about a parking lot.

But what about a parking lot filled with young drivers? Young drivers who are going to have to navigate that parking lot at the same time as school buses and hundreds of other inexperienced drivers. Don’t forget the adults coming to work in the same building along with parents picking up or dropping off their kids.

Those are just some of the things our engineers have had to think about when designing projects for the Grain Valley School District, a relationship that has been ongoing for more than 15 years.

May 2010 February 2024
A long-term relationship

In those years, MKEC has helped Grain Valley, Missouri, transform their high school to keep up with the city’s growth. In 2007, the population of Grain Valley was just under 10,000 people. Today, it hovers near 17,000. That kind of growth created a need for larger middle and high schools along with a new administrative building.

“We have taken a school that was a rectangle and built all around,” says MKEC landscape architect Brian Hochstein. “We’re on phase 6. We’ve built everything around the building. Redesigned the parking lots. We’ve helped them do tennis courts. We’ve done a little with the baseball and softball fields. We’ve worked on the courtyard, entry, and drop-offs. That’s just the high school. We’ve built a whole classroom wing for the middle school and have redone the early childhood center. Their district offices were in an old farm home, so we worked on a new leadership center and a transportation facility. The only thing we haven’t worked on is their elementary schools, and we’re getting started on that.”

In addition, Grain Valley’s architecture partner, Hollis + Miller, has remained the same, as well. MKEC has successfully partnered with Hollis + Miller on hundreds of school projects since 2005. Working with a longtime partner is a huge benefit to the school district because the team has a thorough understanding of the client’s goals and operating processes. Having that consistency makes communication streamlined and efficient.

“MKEC Engineering has been crucial to the success of many construction projects for Grain Valley Schools. The MKEC team understands our campuses, and the challenges we face with each project. They know the “lay of the land” even better than our own staff. MKEC always find the best solution for our schools. Grain Valley Schools has had many successful projects in the past, and we are set up for successful construction projects in the future, because of the time and energy the MKEC team puts into their work for Grain Valley Schools.”

Dr. Nicolas Gooch, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services – Grain Valley School District

Unique challenges

Working with schools brings its own challenges. Beyond the parking lot safety issues, the multiple needs of different students have to be taken into account.

“You just have to think about student safety,” says Megan Burrow, civil engineer for MKEC. “We go back and forth with the district. You’ve got high schoolers learning to drive. You have to consider where we’re putting the different lanes and keep all those different things in mind when designing exterior circulation on the side.”

“You just have to think about student safety, you’ve got high schoolers learning to drive. You have to consider where we’re putting the different lanes and keep all those different things in mind.”

Megan Burrow, Civil Engineer

There was even a drum problem that had to be solved.

“There’s always fun problems,” Hochstein says. “One of the challenges with the parking lot was the band has to be able to practice at the football field. Moving the bass drum across the parking lot was a big thing for the band director.”

Other challenges came with some unique properties of the site. The high school backs up to an area of wetlands, which can make it challenging, as can the history of the site.

In addition, the high school was built on the site of what used to be a hog operation. In the course of doing some geotechnical borings, it was discovered that where the school district wanted a parking lot, a giant pit full of the detritus of the hog operation, including dead hogs, sat underground. Before building the parking lot, that pit and the things in it would have to be dealt with.

Good communication solves problems

With so many stakeholders, it can be difficult to balance what everyone wants, from the city to the school district to individual teachers, which is why forging good relationships is so important.

“We love working with Grain Valley,” Hochstein says. “They have a master plan, and they follow it. We’ve tried to be good partners.”

One of the hallmarks of the way MKEC works is our commitment to keeping the lines of communication open, and that clued MKEC’s engineers in to the importance of the interconnectivity between schools.

“The sidewalk on the north end of the high school was a big deal with one of the previous community development directors,” Hochstein says. “He got a huge grant for that and just us going and talking to the city alerted us to that. We were able to incorporate elements of that sidewalk into what we were doing, and we could really protect the sidewalk. It had the potential to be one of those things where someone said, “oh, my gosh, you’re tearing out a sidewalk that’s been in for only 18 months?” All because somebody didn’t check with somebody else.”

Building relationships, listening, communicating, and solving problems has been the backbone of our relationship with Grain Valley schools for a decade and a half, and we don’t plan to do anything different in the years ahead.

“We love working with Grain Valley. They have a master plan, and they follow it. We’ve tried to be good partners.”

Brian Hochstein, Landscape Architect