Building For Our Future: Rice & Gardner Jim Rice


COVER STORY | By Christopher Hill –

When we talk about necessity, it is crucial to comprehend the massive growth of the region. Across our country, the US government classifies metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) for comparisons. In total, there are 383 MSAs in the United States. Our area falls under the title of Houston – The Woodlands – Sugar Land. That region encompasses nearly seven million people, an increase of almost one million people since the 2010 census. We are now ranked sixth overall, and our percentage increase over that time is the largest of any of the top 29 MSAs across the nation. Over 125,000 people move into our region every year, and that number is escalating.

When you have growth of that magnitude, infrastructure is of critical importance. Many discuss mobility bonds, which are essential features that connect home to work, but just as vital are the educational infrastructure needs of the region. A majority of the people moving to the area have children who need education and access to facilities. The continuing expectation is that our schools not just be built, but that they be exemplary places of learning.

We sat down with Jim Rice, president of Rice & Gardner Consultants, to discuss the processes that drive school development.

The Schools of Today

Exterior shot of Delmar Fieldhouse for Houston ISD (HISD). The 5,000-seat multi-purpose arena cost $35.2 million and hosts basketball and volleyball games and tournaments for HISD.

“Today’s modern school can be as large as 100,000 square feet. That’s over one and a half times larger than the White House.”

Designing something as substantial as city-block planning is complicated. Rice & Gardner traditionally acts as the liaison to the client, as well to the vendors, coordinating the project from preplanning and design through construction and a successful launch.

“We start with attendance projections to get an initial view of the size requirements; then we begin to focus on what the district and community want in their school. These help us to figure realistically how many kids can be positively served each year.”

Consultants like Rice & Gardner are concerned about what many take for granted. For instance, a cafeteria has an incredible amount of influence on the preplanning process. The size of that single chamber influences the entire student migration through the building. If the room is too small, then the number of lunch periods increases, which decreases the available time for instruction.

Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy, one of the projects Rice & Gardner provided Program Management for under the HISD 2012 Bond.

Some planning is baked into the process from the outset, such as Texas state requirements. Austin sets the size of classrooms, the number of labs and many of the facility spaces for activities such as choir. Coordinating the wants and the “have-tos” falls under Rice and Gardner’s purview.

“During the planning stages, we work with the district to add in the things that their community has asked for, while at the same time, we keep our eye on the requirements and the budget.“

They also serve as a bridge to the architects, engineers and contractors, at times creating the scoring matrix that will be used to judge the various bids during the public bidding process.

When you add Texas state-required items with extra things that the district and community want, the scope tends to expand. Scope creep, as it is called, can take a tightly planned project and change it into a delayed, over-budget boondoggle. This is where Rice & Gardner’s involvement becomes essential.

With the Client Through Every Stage

“We play the role of traffic cop,” said Rice. “Prioritizing items and allowing the stakeholders to see the cost-benefit analysis are important to keeping the project on time and at or under budget.”

Rice & Gardner helps develop various bid packages for consultants like contractors, engineers, and other specialists and then, as they plan for the release of the documents, they prepare the legal notices alerting companies to the impending opportunity. After the competitive bids go out and are returned, they ensure that the responses are accurate. The firm checks references and applies the scoring matrix so the district can make an informed decision, as price is just one component of the decision-making process.   

Once the entity selects its preferred vendor, Rice & Gardner continue their role of traffic cop to manage the design and build of the project. Their purpose is to remove the communication barriers for the vendors and to act as the owner’s representative to make sure that everything moves along according to schedule.

The newly constructed HISD Furr High School, one of the projects Rice & Gardner provided Program Management for under the HISD 2012 Bond.

This coordination is more than just the build-out. Regulating procurement is an excruciatingly detailed process that confirms each step of the supply chain. For a parent sitting down to speak to their child’s teacher, there is no thought given to what brought that chair they sit on to that room. For Rice & Gardner, the arrival of that single chair is the result of a complex series of negotiations. Decisions about the type of chair begin a process that determines: an ordering date, shipping time, where the chair will be housed, who will assemble it, timely delivery to the school and finally, which room it will go into. This is a single chair with a complete supply chain that needs coordination. Multiply that lone item with a thousand more like it, then do the same computations for a hundred additional details, all needing synchronization.

Having a company organize these details allows the school to focus on the education of our youth and not get bogged down by the intricate aspects of procurement. Rice & Gardner works to make sure the administration, usually the facilities committee, is always in the loop on the most important details.

“Communication is one of our hallmarks,” shared Rice.  “It is critical to provide the owners with all of the progress specifics without overwhelming them.”

 

 


On the Forefront of Educational Technology

But schools today are defined by more than just scope. They need to address modern technological requirements not seen in past school iterations. The development, cohesion and maintenance of these systems require expert coordination.

“It is very similar to your car. When I was growing up, I could change my oil and fix many of the issues. With a good wrench, I could do just about anything. However, in today’s vehicles, you deal with electronics of all sorts: cameras, satellite uplinks, push-button remotes and sensors of all kinds. Our cars are expected to have these amenities. The same goes for our schools.”

The technology also keeps changing. Years ago, everything needed to be wired into the school. Now wireless connectivity is preferred. Teachers often recommend that students have access to personal laptops or other wireless devices. The systems need to be able to handle adequately, in some cases, one thousand or more kids connecting to them. Smart boards were once rare items; now they are integral to the learning process. Most importantly, all of these systems need to work together to ensure limited disruptions to the learning process.

The scope of our schools also significantly impacts the technology they need. As more electrical equipment is included in classrooms and the size of rooms expands, tools to enhance the teacher’s ability to communicate become important. Speech augmentation tools, which allow students to hear the voices of their teachers, are one of the devices needed. The wearable device must work every day and be able to operate with the smart board.

There is system on top of system, all of which need to work flawlessly, plus the addition of environmental controls. It was 1968 when the first air conditioners went into Texas schools. It’s somewhat hard to imagine that before then, open windows were used to cool the learning environment. Today, the expectations for climate control have grown exponentially. The systems don’t need just to operate efficiently; they must also be beneficial for our environment, without overtaxing resources.

“As we speak with our client, it is critical to focus not just on what is desired today, but also to understand what their maintenance staff is ready to maintain years, and in some cases decades, from now,” said Rice.  “Schools today have some systems more complex than what took the space shuttles out of our atmosphere.”

The trend of high-tech building will never abate.

“We have worked hard to be the trusted experts in project management – not just for schools, but for all types of complex construction and infrastructure projects. From assisting organizations to develop their best path forward, working with vendors to ensure the projects are on time, developing preventative maintenance plans – we sweat the details so our clients don’t have to.”

For more information about Rice & Gardner Consultants, visit ricegardner.com or call 713.482.2300.

Serving Fort Bend’s Youth

More than a successful businessman, Jim Rice focuses his intent on youth development and the quality of life in Fort Bend County.  Rice served as the Troop Committee Chairman for Boy Scout Troop 441, and his scouting involvement evolved into serving as the District Chairman of the entire Boy Scouts of America Tomahawk District. All three of Rice’s sons accomplished the rank of Eagle Scout.

Rice’s work with the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce included the 2004-2005 Leadership Class, board membership, the education Division Vice Chair since 2009 and the recipient of the Vickie Hamilton Award in 2008. For his church, he has chaired three building committees for Christ United Methodist Church and worked with the church youth community.

Since 2010, Rice has served as a Board of Trustee for the Fort Bend Independent School District. He served two consecutive terms as the board’s president and one as secretary. Currently, he chairs the Board’s Audit Committee, and his work in education also includes service as a board member of the Literacy Council of Fort Bend.

Perhaps most far-reaching effort to improve the lives within our county was the creation of Fort Bend Cares in 2005. Rice, alongside his late partner and friend Bob McClendon, created a charity focused on helping Fort Bend non-profits with their success in serving the children and youth of Fort Bend. In 2018 alone, Fort Bend Cares granted $184,000 to 26 separate non-profits.

Successful community development is lost without a thriving community, and Jim Rice has been there to make sure we have both now and in the future.