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South Jordan Journal

AAI students oversee plans, construction of new school addition

Mar 16, 2020 02:34PM ● By Julie Slama

The American Academy of Innovation student construction project team pores over blueprints of the school’s addition in anticipation of groundbreaking by March. (Robert Warren/American Academy of Innovation)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

A team of American Academy of Innovation students just may be astonishing some adults.

The AAI student construction project team has been overseeing the school’s 3,200-square-foot expansion project, from working with architects to getting contractor bids. They’ve met with Daybreak and South Jordan officials, ensuring the new design of the four classrooms meets with the code and now ground-breaking is expected to begin by March.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to engage students,” AAI Director of Technology Robert Warren said. “The students have researched the idea, created the proposal, developed the plans and presented it. It’s very much a student-led project, which surprises adults as they meet and talk with them. These students are able to present and field questions since they’ve done the research and understand the process.”

Junior Devin Eide said that is because during the year “we’ve learned every aspect of the building and steps along the way.”

“We impressed them,” he said. “I think they expected scribbles on a napkin, but we had more than that.”

The process began last fall as Warren, who meets weekly with the eight juniors and seniors, said school officials reviewed their original architectural plans for the classrooms but turned those over to students who wanted to be involved in the intense project.

The project is part of AAI’s competency-based education program where students demonstrate their work, submit it with assessments that align with specific, measurable competencies, and get feedback and assessments, which demonstrates the students’ competency and learning experience. According to AAI Operations Manager Mia Prazen, AAI is the only charter school to receive a grant from the Utah State Board of Education to implement a competency-based education program. To date, it is the first school in Utah to do so. 

“They give an oral defensive learning presentation of what they have done for the year, and seniors do it front of the school,” Warren said. “They’ll be able to point to the addition and share with them how it happened, each step of the way.”

Junior Quade Flanders, who would like to be a civil engineer, said he was excited to be on the student construction team.

“It’s a chance that I had to jump on, to work in my top career choice with the school addition,” he said. “I knew I’d get real experience and gain helpful skills. I’d learn how to do it and apply it, not just learn from a piece of paper.”

Senior Emily Lamoreaux said she was initially drawn to the project by the idea of learning about architecture.

“It’s really cool, to be able to have the opportunity to work on your school’s expansion,” she said. “It’s become more as we work as a group in real-world work, exploring what is needed, room by room, learning to write RFPs (requests for proposal) in specific language and communicating in our presentations.”

Through the process, Warren said students met with teachers to understand their needs. Students learned additional specifications with building codes for the animal science room and engineering lab.

“They studied to make sure the design, the ventilation for the lab, the exits, everything right down to the drains were aligned with city and building codes,” he said.

During the process, students reviewed and revamped designs, deciding what worked best. They determined two classrooms ultimately would be built with a retractable wall so it can open up into one room to allow for more functions, Warren said.

“It was the students who sat down with the architectures and engineers and went back and forth. They learned the process and could see how this would come together,” he said. “Then, they met with possible contractors in a pre-proposal meeting; 12 responded to their RFPs.”

Bryson Sanger, who will graduate this year and is interested in architecture and civil engineering, said students presented for the 12 contractors.

“We put the presentation together ourselves, went over it with them, answered their questions,” he said.

From evaluating the top three contractors, EK Bailey Construction was selected in December to work with Babcock Design, the same architectural firm that built the school. As of press deadline, the building price was still being determined.

Throughout the process, students learned how to communicate with each other with clear, factual writing and with presentations. Warren also said they used math skills to determine square footage to airflow volume and science to determine the best lighting and to ensure wireless ethernet coverage in the expansion.

Equally as important, he said students examined what they were learning.

“We reviewed what we did, what they learned,” Warren said. “If something failed, then it’s OK to fail. Just learn from it so next time they can do something differently.”

Senior Cody Brewster has appreciated the opportunity to gain insight into the field, even though he would like to work in the astronomy profession.

“I never realized how much work there is, from start to the end,” he said. “The whole project has been problem-solving. We’ve learned if there is problem, then we have to figure out how to solve it.”

That, Flanders said, is what he appreciates about this opportunity at AAI.

“That’s what I like about this school,” he said. “We get the mindset and learn how the real world works.”

In addition to meeting with architects and contractors, students met with their school board, Daybreak design officials and the South Jordan City Design Review Committee, including the chief building officer, fire marshal, city engineer and others, to discuss safety, design and construction of AAI’s expansion.

“Once these officials understood these students were the ones in charge, they treated them as responsible, young adults,” Warren said. “At first, the students may have been nervous, but they were confident in their complexity of their work, and officials saw them take it seriously.”

Senior Gabby Culley, who wants to pursue computer science as a career, said the school board was excited about hearing from the students.

“They asked about it as well as how we were doing it for the school and how it was as a hands-on learning project,” she said. “It’s been a really cool real-world experience.”

Warren said these students, including the other two members of the team, Lily Claspell and Jackson Howard, have come a long way.

“They’ve come from looking at stacks of blueprints to understanding and doing the work involved to seeing how the design will look when it is done in July and opens for the school year next fall,” he said. “It is wonderful to see them jump into some very serious matters that will have a real and long-lasting impact.”

Lamoreaux, who will graduate before the addition is completed, is realizing the impact she and the team of students will have.

“At first, I thought, that’s where the addition will be,” she said. “Now, it’s like, whoa, there will actually be a building there, and we’re a part of that happening.”

Sanger adds: “I can point that out to my kids and say, ‘I helped build that.’”


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