An Investment in the Future of Education

January 11, 2019

When it comes to designing schools, our philosophy is, well, pretty elementary. There’s really not much more to our approach than what students are taught every day in school: Do great work. Own your actions. Respect others.

Over the past decade, our team has grown its K-12 expertise in and around the Midwest, earning a reputation as a trusted partner to architectural teams, public school districts and private schools who turn to us time and again for solutions-focused engineering services. For nearly two decades we’ve completed more than 300 projects in over 50 districts, developing strong relationships with municipalities and construction managers alike through consistent, upfront communication.

Civil engineering isn’t just about parking lots and utilities. It’s about relationships. 

Brian Hill, PE, MKEC

We ask questions, and we listen. We understand that no two school bond issues are alike, and we approach each project with an open mind and an eagerness to seek out the best, most efficient solutions. Our design partners, municipalities and construction managers know they can rely on us to not only give good advice, but to also help everyone understand the issues and work as a team to find a compromise. From the start, we make sure district leaders know they can call us with questions big and small, even long after projects are completed. When the Leavenworth School District needed help determining the scope for a potential new bond measure, MKEC worked with the architect of record to provide a facilities assessment. The team’s recommendations led to a scope of work that resulted in a successful bond issue passage.

We are adept at leading design teams through municipal planning submittals and approvals processes. We spend time early in the project to build relationships and understand the complexities of the permitting processes, then coordinate within the team to establish project goals, provide updates and seek input. For example, we serve as the architectural teams’ point of contact to the Unified Government on Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools’ (KCKPS) bond issue, facilitating all city planning submittals, meetings and approvals for the entire bond.

School bond work presents a unique set of challenges, chief among them: a hard start date for the academic year. This makes the timing of everything from design completion to permitting to construction absolutely critical. And that’s where we shine. All of the prep work we’ve done with stakeholders pays off in a well-planned, highly detailed project, followed by thorough construction administration. When the citizens of Pittsburg, Kansas approved a $31 million bond measure in 2017, our work touched every school in the community. While not always obvious, our expertise and attention to detail are evident in the safety and smooth operations each of the six schools now enjoys. This includes FEMA-rated safe rooms, some of which perform double duty as cafeterias, kitchens or classrooms; improved access and better parking lot and site circulation; and a host of HVAC, lighting, utilities and drainage upgrades, on top of the project’s classroom additions and heightened security measures. As we committed to do, we delivered the Pittsburg school improvements on time and on budget.

Site constraints often pose additional hurdles. Not only do we have to design solutions that guarantee the safety of students and teachers during construction, but topography – the site’s physical features – often proves tricky too. One of many challenges at Lansing High School was a considerable grade change that required moving nearly 200,000 cubic yards of soil to properly grade the campus. This initially meant millions of dollars in retaining walls, but by partnering with the architect to rework the original site plan, we found a solution for just a tenth of the original estimate, resulting in huge savings for the District.

Our philosophy is the more money that can go toward the learning spaces themselves, the better.

Brian Hochstein, PLA, MKEC

We are especially proud when our work provides value for the entire community, as was the case with the new Compass Elementary School in the Platte County R-3 district. On a tight budget and strict deadline, the district needed a through street providing both access to the new school and improved community connectivity. The challenges were many, including a significant stream channel, a pair of protected wetlands and busy traffic at the intersection near the school’s entrance. Leveraging our expertise in structural and roadway design, hydraulic modeling, survey and traffic analysis, we designed a major street extension that conforms to the topography, a roundabout that solves traffic concerns, and a shared-use bike/pedestrian path that connects key segments of the City’s path system. Kentucky Avenue now connects the east and west sides of Platte City, with a new road benefiting all citizens.

Our K-12 work extends beyond survey and design. From celebrating the North Kansas City Education Foundation’s annual fall breakfast to participating in various schools’ Career Days, our team enjoys supporting clients and partners outside of projects. We volunteer in the classroom at Minneha Elementary, mentoring students in math, sharing lunches with them and just lending an ear when they want to talk. In addition to serving on the KCKPS College and Career Advisory Board, one of our favorite ways of paying it forward is helping Hollis + Miller Architects with their annual Learnscapes – donated outdoor classrooms at several districts around the region.

These schools are part of our communities. They’re where our own children go to school. We are personally invested in the success of the local school systems, and it is incredibly rewarding to see how our work benefits our neighbors, our friends, and our families. At MKEC, communication is paramount, and we stick to the basics. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do quality work. Add in our no-excuses culture, and it’s easy to see what sets us apart from our competitors. Whether it’s on the field or in the classroom, designing innovative places for students to learn is a vital part of our mission to build a brighter future.