Project of the Year: Construction contractors honored for Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools

One look at the sleek, cutting-edge facility that is the Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools will convey this building is meant for great things. The striking 50,000 square foot facility on Quail Road gleams as a beacon for learning and ingenuity. Adding further testament, contractors behind the build have been honored with prestigious recognition for their work. FCI Constructors won an Excellence Award and the Project of the Year Award from the Associated Builders and Contractors Rocky Mountain Chapter, surpassing grand competition such as Denver’s luxurious Gaylord Hotel. FCI Constructors is also up for the Excellence Award and the Project of the Year Award from the Associated Builders and Contractors at the national level, which will be announced in March.

Anderson Mason Dale Architects received the Rocky Mountain Peak Award; the award, for which a record number of submissions were entered this year, recognizes new construction projects that exemplify how design supports the educational goals of the community and district. “This building has some of what I would call Fortune 500 aspects to it,” says St. Vrain’s Executive Director of Construction and Maintenance, Rick Ruffino. “It’s very aspirational. Nothing is typical of what might be considered a classic building, from finishes to technology.”

Walk through the Innovation Center Halls and there’s no question the building was designed with inspired, purposeful intent. Cathy Bellem, Project Architect with Anderson Mason Dale Architects shares. “[High school students] they feel ready to spread wings and explore what life has to offer. The Innovation Center is designed to blur boundaries, connect spaces, and create a terrain to explore and to test what opportunities might exist when kids are given license to set their own limits.” 

While the Innovation Center’s physical space is remarkable, what isn’t obvious on looks alone is the spirit of teamwork and tireless dedication behind its construction. Indeed, the building process reflects the ethos and creative design-thinking that flourishes within. “Everyone involved took a completely collaborative approach,” says Justin Sprouse, Construction Project Manager with FCI Constructors. “We worked hand-in-hand with Anderson Mason Dale and St. Vrain Valley School District early on to work to achieve goals; that wholehearted collaboration continued, throughout the entire process.”

The District’s longtime goal of providing a dedicated facility to bridge the gap between academic and career-readiness pathways for STEM students in a high-school setting became more achievable in 2011, thanks to funding from the competitive Race to the Top grant created by the U.S. Department of Education. The passing of a bond initiative in 2016, alongside support from many industry and community partners, furthered that dream. 

The construction project tackled many challenges along the way. The site, originally under Boulder County jurisdiction, was annexed into the city limits of Longmont pre-construction, which posed unexpected issues. “Every project has issues you have to deal with,” Ruffino says. “This one, however, had all these tremendous budget, timeline, and jurisdictional issues in one job.”

Applying the greatest pressure was the combination of working within budget and the specific timeframe needed. When the original contractor struggled to find ways to meet project goals within budget, Ruffino reached out to FCI Constructors to supply a peer review. After thorough analysis, the FCI team proposed several cost-savings measures, becoming the general contractor as a result. The team approach between all parties was exemplary from start, Sprouse says. “One thing I absolutely love about St. Vrain is, whether it’s Rick Ruffino or [Assistant Superintendent of Operations] Brian Lamer—those gentlemen understand the whole process, timelines, and costs of what it takes to build. They’re very willing to make the decisions we need to keep us all moving forward.”

Not only were the District, FCI Constructors and Anderson Mason Dale in sync with decision-making, they demonstrated true collaborative initiative day to day. Weekly OAC (Owner, Architect, Contractor) meetings were held and Anderson Mason Dale and FCI shared a job trailer during a crucial period of construction. “Having an onsite architect meant the speed at which we could resolve issues was astounding,” Ruffino says. “We could take the architect right out to what we were talking about, as opposed to waiting several days.”

No question, the tireless efforts were rewarded. Within the Innovation Center, exploration and discovery thrive. What’s more, the team behind the build was itself inspired. “In all my years, I’ve never really seen that [level of collaboration] happen,” Sprouse says. “It’s created a pattern, at least with the relationships between ourselves, St. Vrain Valley Schools and Anderson Mason Dale…that kind of team approach hugely benefits the whole.”  “We’re incredibly proud,” Ruffino says. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with this project, its teamwork, and on achieving its level of success.”

St. Vrain Valley Schools