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RJM’s Marketing Manager Maria Manske sat down with Robbie to learn more about his role and how we partner with our education clients to make their school projects come to life.

Your project focus over the past several years has been on the K-12 education market, working on both ground-up facilities as well as renovations and additions. As a project executive, how do you approach working with education clients?

For the past 25 years, I have been fortunate to be a part of K-12 and other education projects in Minnesota and other states. It is rewarding to see the impact that new and improved school facilities have on each community I have worked with. I understand that every client is unique with their own set of priorities, so the first step is to listen and learn about the district’s overall needs, and then discuss and offer the best solutions. These can involve several areas including strategic master planning, bond referendums, cost estimating, phasing, logistics, and constructability. I have seen that the best outcomes are when construction management expertise is brought on board as early as possible. This way, school project teams have a trusted partner early in the process, which can prove to be invaluable to the overall program development and deployment. We have seen how this proactive approach leads to smooth and successful projects that meet – if not exceed – the client’s goals.

In what ways have you seen changes in the design and functionality of schools over the past few years, and what are the drivers behind them?

As you can guess, most recently the pandemic has caused many changes within district education and operating processes. Some of the flexibility we saw with online learning will continue to be around in some form, but the in-person classroom education model will continue to exist. The refinement of spaces will continue to evolve allowing the flexibility and efficient use of these spaces. Specifically, the mechanical and electrical systems, many of which are outdated, are currently unable to run at peak efficiency and are a common concern for most school districts. The improvement of heating and ventilation systems throughout district facilities is increasingly becoming a priority, not only for the health and safety of students and all user groups, but also from an operational, cost standpoint.

You attend many K-12 industry events and conferences annually. What do you have planned this year, and what insights are you looking forward to as you network with clients and project partners?

We are members of various organizations for public schools and charter schools. We attend many conferences throughout the year to help support the function of each organization. I look forward to meeting new clients and discussing their needs and how we can be a valuable member of their team.

Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) 
Minnesota Educational Facility Management Professionals (MASMS)
Minnesota Association of School Business Officials (MASBO) 
Minnesota Association of Charter Schools (MACS)

What is the most rewarding part of your job, and why?

I am very thankful for finding this niche and there are many things I love about my job. Specifically, with the K-12 market, I would say that the most rewarding aspect is working with the client for the entire life cycle of their program. While we love completing one successful project, we look beyond that by offering to be a true partner and a trusted resource to help with the strategic planning of all construction needs. This relationship sets the foundation for project success, from the preconstruction phase right on through to the ribbon cutting.

We are proud to be a part of the transformation that all our teamwork brings to the community at large, whether a new classroom addition, HVAC upgrades, improved security, a performing arts center, laboratory space, technology upgrades, or athletic complexes, and more. These buildings and grounds are all great investments for and assets to the communities we work with. Most of all, it is rewarding to see the collaboration of industry and community come together for the common goal of educating our kids in facilities and spaces that allow for flexibility and creativity for the growth and development of our next generation.

Can you share what you are working on now?

In the public-school market, we are currently working on the design phase on two projects for Saint Paul Public Schools: An HVAC upgrade project at Mississippi Creative Arts School that will be phased over during the summers of 2023 and 2024. We are also working on the new Bruce Vento Elementary School that will replace the current facility; construction is scheduled to commence in early 2024. We also have several school projects breaking ground this summer which include Southwest Christian High School, Hill Murray Schools, and Global Academy.