Making a Middle School into a High School

In 2007, Dripping Springs Independent School District’s (DSISD) Bond included a recommendation to convert the existing High School to a new Middle School and to expand and convert the existing Middle School to become the new High School. This was based on a two-year long study conducted by the DSISD’s Long Range Facilities Planning Team consisting of 74 community members representing every part of the school district attendance area, including parents, grandparents, business owners, teachers, principals, district administrators and support staff, board members, retired community members, and consultants.

Cunningham-Allen, Inc. was honored to be selected to work on both conversion projects and provide Surveying and Civil Engineering services.

There was one stipulation:  Both projects had to be completed without ANY interruption of classes or other school services

The construction operations had to be carefully scheduled and coordinated with the school schedule and design required the facilities and services (water, wastewater, drainage, and parking) to be phased to achieve a conversion without service interruption.

As you would expect, both projects presented several challenges.  However the civil engineering challenges we faced converting the existing Middle School to the new High School were truly unique, especially the design of the wastewater service.

The existing Middle School was designed for 1,200 students and occupied a 40 acre site including an on-site wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The new High School was to house 1,800 students, with a future capacity of 2,500 students. The district purchased an additional 60 acres to accommodate the additional facilities associated with a High School campus. Due to the significant increase in population and the planned expansion of the existing building, the existing on-site wastewater treatment plant had to be abandoned, completely redesigned at a different location and permitted to meet current State of Texas code.

As the design of the new on-site WWTP was underway, the team learned there was a possibility the City of Dripping Springs could provide wastewater service to the school. This option was attractive to DSISD since it was more economical and would eliminate substantial maintenance and operation costs associated with an on-site wastewater treatment plant.  In order to connect the school’s wastewater lines to the City’s system, a different wastewater collection system would have to be designed and constructed.

DSISD and the City of Dripping Springs started the necessary negotiations immediately, but it became clear the time needed to reach a final agreement might take longer than the planned opening date of the new High School.

A reverse schedule was prepared, starting from the opening date and listing the major design, permitting and construction milestones and “drop dead” decision dates that would have to occur for either of the wastewater options to be in place by opening day.  Based on that reverse schedule, DSISD decided to proceed with the design and construction of both options until the final agreement between the District and the City had been reached.

By the time the agreement between the City and the District was reached to use the City’s wastewater system, the on-site wastewater treatment plant had been completely designed and permitted, and the majority of the on-site wastewater infrastructure had been constructed. Luckily, no construction on the on-site wastewater treatment plant had started.

The coordination of the design, construction, and school schedule was very challenging with a looming, unchangeable opening date. In the end, having a team that was willing to work together toward one goal paid off. The entire project was constructed on schedule, on budget, and without one day of missed school – much to the dismay of the students!