Summer 2011 – Volume 11 Number 2

The "Summer Job"

By V. Joseph Pica

Principal of Pica + Sullivan Architects, Ltd.

As the first day queue line slowly traces a path to the front door, the anticipation and excitement mounts. The start of the school year is energizing. Although only returning from a short summer hiatus, everything about the campus seems different. And no wonder! Construction crews departed scant hours before – just after finishing the______(Adjective)______Summer Job.
Similar to the Mad Libs® word game we played as youngsters, each reader is invited to insert their own adjective in the previous sentence. Hopefully you will use a descriptor like wonderful, amazing, or incredible. But it would not be surprising if you insert words like frustrating, nerve-racking or budget-busting.

(Above) Heschel Day School Elementary and Middle School Science Classrooms. Design by Pica + Sullivan Architects, Ltd. Photograph by Randall Michelson Photography.

The success of a summer project is determined long before the contractor arrives on campus. Inadequate preparation usually leads to delays and unmet expectations. And there is the potential of having incomplete facilities greeting the eager scholars on that first morning. Planning and organizing for a summer project needs to begin early long before the final bell of the school year rings.

There are numerous tasks leading to the moment when the first spade of dirt is overturned. These include Needs Assessment, Entitlement, Plans, Permits and Contractor Selection. Each takes time and effort and all are critical to guarantee a successful project completion.


Every journey starts with a first step and in the case of the summer project that involves determining the needs as they relate to the physical environment. One approach is to take stock of what exists. This is often done by analyzing the life expectancy of building components and prioritizing replacement. While important information, it only addresses the status quo. Roof repair, carpet installation, re-painting and tile repair should be on-going maintenance endeavors. And doing this work during an extended break is appropriate. But a truly transformative summer project is one that creates space to augment the academic experience.

To that end, the best approach is to initiate a needs assessment discussion with all of the campus constituencies.

Faculty, staff, administrators, parents and students are on campus everyday and have valuable perspectives as to what works and what should be changed. While needs assessment often lead to grandiose schemes, focused discussions can identify smaller projects; one’s featuring improvements that extend learning opportunities. The key limitation is that the pro- posed construction must be accomplished in a three-month summer timeframe.


Very few jurisdictions have zoning classifications that allow schools by right. Schools can be located in most zones under the auspices of a planning entitlement commonly known as a Conditional Use Permit. The permit typically establishes limits on items such as building area, classrooms, parking, and hours of operation. These conditions are intended to address potential conflicts with the surrounding community.

Adding square-footage or changing the use of a campus space may (and this is the operative word) initiate an entitlement update or planning action.

Since entitlements are time consuming, costly and invite public comment, it is important to open a dialog with the local officials when the proposed scope of work is conceptualized. If the intended improvement triggers a planning action, the process will (another operative word) affect the construction start date.

My partner read the last paragraph and wanted me to add, in an emphatic fashion, that if a project requires additional entitlement, it may still be a summer project it just won’t be starting this coming summer!


From my perspective this is the fun part (and being an architect that would stand to reason). Architectural plans typically require a number of steps. Aside from the initial sketch, there is an iterative process to explore the possibilities.

After resolution with the user groups, the plans become more elaborate and technical; developing into a set of instructions for the contractor to follow.

The time frame to create a complete set of these working drawings can be measured in months. But finalizing plans does not mean that a construction start is imminent.

Planning Process Needs To Begin In October

(Above) Campbell Hall Vikings take on St. Monica Mariners in the first football game played on Campbell Hall field. Project was completed over a summer break. Architectural design by Pica + Sullivan Architects, Ltd. Photo by Campbell Hall student Clarke Heyes.


The Building Permit process is separate and distinct from a Conditional Use review (though in a familial sense, these two would be considered cousins). The plans are submitted to the local jurisdiction, which assigns individuals to verify compliance with the building ordinances. The process can be lengthy as it is subject to complications and delays inherent to bureaucracies.

The nuts and bolts involve submitting plans, paying a fee, the initial review, obtaining and addressing plan check comments and corrections, re-submittal and final approval. Whew!

It is almost never that easy though; the re-submittal may elicit additional comments and corrections (ad infinitum). It is always advisable to have a pre-plan check discussion with the city, ahead of the initial submittal, to identify potential road blocks.


The general contractor is the critical member of the project team. All the hopes, aspirations, planning and hard work are dependent on the competence and skills of this one entity. Likemindedness with the other team members is paramount.

A typical selection process involves a bid. But having the lowest price and being the best contractor for the school may not necessarily be synonymous. This dilemma is resolved by pre-qualifying bidders. Every applicant should run the gauntlet and prove to be an acceptable, and even compelling, partner.


After the contractor selection it is only a few short steps to construction; negotiation, contracts, pre-ordering and staging all must precede that mid-June start time. When the hue and cry of the end of school fades to silence, the race begins to complete construction in time for the fall term.

The year comes full circle. Unfortunately there is not much opportunity to rest on your laurels. By early October the process needs to begin again; setting the stage for the next summer undertaking.