On 29 June, 2018, an aerial drone photograph taken of Cayman International School shows the site of the new early childhood centre and high school. The photograph shows a newly cleared building site with a hole dug for the foundation of the early childhood centre, the first phase of the project being constructed by Decco.
Fast-forward one year to this month and the early childhood centre is nearly ready to welcome young students to Grand Cayman’s newest school in mid-August. Getting the purpose-built, 23,000-square-foot school completed in such a short period of time is an impressive feat, even by Decco’s high standards.
“It was a very aggressive schedule,” says Decco’s Project Director Bryan Fitzgerald. “The project has a hard deadline date; the kids have to move in when they need to move in, so we had to condense the construction schedule to eight and a half months. There was really no room for error or mishaps on the early childhood centre.”
The time factor to get the early childhood centre ready for the 2019/2020 school year was one of several challenges the Decco construction management team and its many subcontractors faced. The time factor, however, required extraordinary efforts by itself.
“Doing any building of this nature in this time period is a challenge anywhere,” says Fitzgerald, adding that it required a lot of pre-planning and extra hours on the job site.
“We’ve been working seven days a week on the site since November,” says Fitzgerald. “The subcontractors understood the aggressive timeline and really stepped up to keep us on schedule. I wouldn’t say we worked them too hard, but we certainly kept them busy.”
“We also worked most public holidays,” says Project Manager Kieran Donovan, noting that for the Queen’s Birthday public holiday in June, five different subcontractors had teams working on the site.
“The subcontractors have really put in the effort to help us hit the deadline,” Donovan says. “Some of them have pulled guys off other jobs to work on this project.”
Another challenge faced by Decco on the Cayman International School project was the unfamiliarity of the team members with each other, Donovan says.
“All of us are fairly new to Decco,” he says. “It’s the first time we all worked together, so we had to integrate new people, new processes and new systems.”
Because of the tight timeline, that integration had to happen quickly.
“We really had to hit the ground running,” Donovan says. “There was no settling in period.” The new systems and processes on the Cayman International School project were significant.
“This is the first 100 per cent BIM project we’ve done,” says Fitzgerald, referring to the Building Information Modelling programme.
“BIM provides a platform for sharing information more efficiently,” says Fitzgerald.
In addition, Decco recently consolidated its design and construction team organisation into a single reporting structure to improve efficiency, Fitzgerald says, adding that the Cayman International School project has become a template for how Decco will manage construction in the future.
The school project also presented a challenge in that it involved multiple stakeholders including Dart as the owner; the Cayman International School administrative staff and teachers; the school’s U.S.-based operating company, International Schools Services; and even the students and their parents. Donovan says that the construction work — including demolition of the old existing road in front of the school — took place during the 2018/2019 academic year, creating a challenge not only for the Decco construction team, but also for all of the people coming to the school.
Senior Site Safety Manager Rohan Marshall says health and safety are at the forefront of all of Decco’s projects.
“The additional phases to Cayman International School have been no different and offered a very unique perspective to maintaining our health and safety requirements, given the challenges of working next to an active building,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is the close proximity of schoolchildren, general public activities and daily traffic management requirements as we strive to meet the building deadlines while maintaining a safe worksite.”
Marshall says he is happy with the health and safety competency shown by the contractors on the site.
“All of our workmen and women have done a tremendous job maintaining our safe work guidelines placing the welfare of fellow workers and the general public first.”
Once the early childhood centre is completed and students start school in August, the Decco team and its subcontractors won’t have time to rest.
“After we hand over the early childhood centre, it’s on to the high school,” says Donovan. “It’s like halftime at a football match; we still have a lot of work to do.”
Although the Decco team has worked through some of the challenges — the construction management team, for example, has worked together with the new systems and processes for more than a year now — other challenges remain, starting with the fact that the purpose-built 87,000-square-foot high school is scheduled to open in August 2020.
“The high school is approximately three times the size,” Donovan says. “We have a year to complete construction and fit it out. That’s a tight timeline.”
While the early childhood centre is one storey, making building it in a one-year time frame a little easier, the high school is three storeys, which entails more time. For that reason, construction on the high school has been happening at the same time as the early childhood centre.
“The bigger picture is that we had to focus on the high school as well,” says Donovan. Fitzgerald says that although there are some efficiencies in building the high school next to the early childhood centre, there weren’t as many as might be expected.
“The high school had a separate procurement process,” he says. “Even though it’s on the same building lot, it’s really almost a separate project.”
The Cayman International School expansion project, once complete, will almost double the capacity to almost 1,100 students.
With the population growth of Grand Cayman in recent years, increasing access to high-quality education opportunities was a prime motivating factor in Dart’s funding of the US$60 million Cayman International School expansion.
For the 2018/2019 academic year, Cayman International School had waiting lists for all early childhood grades, most elementary grade levels and some secondary grade levels, and lack of school slots is seen as a hindering factor to Grand Cayman’s continued economic growth.
“Investing in education is central to our commitment to sustainable economic growth in the Cayman Islands,” said Ian Downing, Dart’s chief financial officer and director of the KBD Foundation Ltd. “The increasing demand for access to top-quality education prompted us to accelerate plans for expansion, completing the construction of the early childhood centre in just under a year. I would like to recognise the exceptional efforts of our design and development teams in delivering the project in time for the start of the school year. In collaboration with the CIS team, they helped capture our collective vision of an inspiring space where young minds can learn and grow.”
The early childhood facility will consist of a nursery, pre-K classrooms, a library and a teaching kitchen, as well as music and movement rooms where children can develop their motor skills.
There will also be covered, outdoor learning gardens for each classroom, and a designed outdoor play space for the children.
The high school includes band, drama and music facilities, a double gymnasium and a media centre. It will also have a visual arts room as well as science, innovation and “makerspace” labs.