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October 6, 2022

K-12 alternative delivery is here to stay

  • PDB has grown in popularity as a delivery method for new schools and school renovation projects around the state.


    AHBL has completed more than 300 individual K-12 projects for 60 school districts in Washington.

    AHBL has a deep commitment to providing value for our clients and through this work has been exposed to many different delivery methods very early on in their adoption in Washington state, including progressive design-build (PDB). Tacoma Public Schools has led in contracting with PDB.

    AHBL was a team member on the first progressive design-build K-12 project in the state: Boze Elementary School in Tacoma. Since this first project, we have been involved in over seven additional PDB K-12 schools.

    There are many reasons that school districts have begun to explore PDB as a delivery method including:

    • Design-builder selected almost exclusively on qualifications.

    • One contract with full team accountability.

    • Owner control of the budget (guaranteed maximum price, GMP).

    • Flexibility and collaboration throughout design.

    • Quick evaluation of design options regarding their impact on budget and schedule.

    • Faster decision-making during design and construction.

    • Early procurement of long lead construction items.

    • Phasing of permitting to take advantage of schedule.

    • More transparent scheduling allows projects to be completed on time.

    Photo courtesy of AHBL [enlarge]
    Tacoma Public School’s Downing Elementary School replacement project included the design and construction of a two-story classroom addition.

    • Submittal process is less costly for PDB team than traditional DB, which would typically include a concept design, which attracts more teams and encourages competition.


    Tacoma Public School’s Boze Elementary School replacement project featured several amenities targeted toward a science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) curriculum, and serves as a new model of education for the district. As this project was delivered with PDB, collaboration with the owner, architect, contractor, and all other subconsultants was a top priority for the project with weekly coordination meetings throughout the design process and during construction. The project, which opened in 2020, was highly successful with only 10 RFIs and zero change orders. The project was delivered on time, and the contractor was able to provide additive field improvements with cost savings achieved during construction. AHBL worked with Korsmo Construction and BCRA on this $35 million project.


    PDB allowed Tacoma Public Schools to deliver an equitable school in a short amount of time with a limited budget and would become the benchmark against which future school district construction budgets would be measured. Construction on the school started less than 12 months after receiving notice to proceed. Through close collaboration with the city of Tacoma, we were able to use a phased permitting approach, allowing groundwork and foundations to be constructed while the full building permit was still under review.

    Tacoma Public School’s Fawcett Elementary School replacement project includes demolition of the existing Fawcett school facility and construction of a new 55,000-square-foot school to house approximately 400 students. The project presents challenges related to the fast-track construction of the new facility on the small, 5.6-acre site that has sloping topography and is surrounded by dense, single-family residential neighborhoods on all sides. AHBL is teamed with Hensel-Phelps and BLRB Architects on this $36 million project that is scheduled to open in September 2023.

    Designing Fawcett Elementary with PDB allowed the contractor to collaborate with the design team throughout the design process, resulting in cost savings for the owner. During this process, the contractor reviewed detailed earthwork calculations and during value engineering, suggested rebalancing the earthwork and adjusting site elevations, saving the team enough money to add a synthetic turf playfield to the project at no added cost to the owner. The original project left the existing playfield in place with no improvements. The construction team also provided extensive constructability suggestions throughout the design process. This close project team collaboration was made possible through PDB processes and resulted in significant cost savings for the owner and a better product for the students at Fawcett Elementary.

    Tacoma Public School’s Downing Elementary School replacement project included the design and construction of a new two-story classroom addition and the renovation of the existing DA Gonyea Boys and Girls Club to house school administration, gymnasium, and cafeteria spaces. The classroom addition was approximately 28,000 square feet and wrapped around the existing Boys and Girls Club. During the design, care was taken to clearly differentiate the main entries of both the elementary school and Boys and Girls Club to provide for easy wayfinding for students.

    The renovated Boys and Girls Club was an existing concrete tilt up building, and renovations included reconfiguring of interior spaces, seismic upgrades to the roof diaphragm, and energy improvements throughout. AHBL was teamed with TCF Architecture and Korsmo Construction on this $31.6 million project that opened in September.

    The design of Downing Elementary kicked off in 2020 at about the same time we locked down for the pandemic. PDB was crucial to the success of the project in the unpredictable material market that ensued. The general contractor was able to monitor material availability, and design decisions were reflective of market conditions. Throughout the design, the PDB team worked together with material suppliers and subcontractors, and in multiple cases materials were bought out early to ensure timely delivery.

    Other school districts have taken on PDB as a delivery method for new schools and school renovation projects including Issaquah School District, Central Kitsap School District, Bethel School District, and Franklin Pierce School District.

    Andrea Sauter is a structural engineer and project manager with AHBL, and has been DBIA-certified in alternative delivery methods since 2018.

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