The Art of Changing Course: A Risk Worth Taking

The Art of Changing Course: A Risk Worth Taking

One of the things I really enjoy about being a Project Manager at IKM is the freedom to take a risk and try a new approach. We want to create the best dynamic for our design team, owner, engineer, and architect, and sometimes that means reevaluating a path you have taken and quick thinking on your feet to decide the best course to move forward. This process was part of my experience on the Chartiers Valley Middle School project. Chartiers Valley created School Design Advisory Teams (SDAT) consisting of students, teachers, administrators, and community members, who established nine guiding principles early in the project.


Three of these principles touched on sustainable ideals, and I was charged to determine how we would incorporate these goals into the design:

  • Be a model campus for stewardship and sustainability
  • Have adaptable and accessible technology
  • Encourage total wellness


Where to begin?  We wanted to create a building that would adapt as needed for the future, knowing that schools seldom get a chance to completely renovate their existing space. So the walls needed to be flexible and structural. We wanted to create a building infrastructure that could easily be adapted for new technology upgrades. We wanted to create an environment that was safe and healthy for the students and teachers, so materiality was an important consideration. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, we wanted to create a building that would perform drastically better than their existing facility, to benefit the district for years to come and to reduce the district’s impact on the environment.



The design team brainstormed on ways to work these elements into the design, but also wanted to discuss them with the students, teachers, and community members that are passionate about sustainability.  We scheduled a sustainability charrette to talk about our ideas, and to see what other ideas we could come up with as a group to help create the best space possible for the community. This was the first time that I had to lead a sustainability charrette, and I must admit I was nervous before it started. As I started the discussion, I could feel that the way I had organized the charrette was not working for the group.  I am sure everyone has had a meeting like this, where within minutes of starting you realize you need to change course to save the discussion. So that is what I did. I shuffled through my slide deck to skip past certain topics to change the direction of the discussion to align with the ideals that seemed important in the room. In the end, it was a great charrette and we established our main sustainable goal of reaching an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 50, which would cut the existing building’s EUI in half. There were many suggestions on how to attain this goal during the charrette, from the building insulation and air barrier requirements to the types of mechanical systems that could be installed.



I am happy to say that the final energy model for the building is a predicted EUI of 46, so we exceeded our goal! We are anxiously awaiting the realtime results once the whole complex at CV is completed at the end of 2019. The whole process of leading the sustainability charrette taught me to not let my nerves override my instinct, not only in design or in the office, but also while communicating with those outside of the AEC industry. You never know when or where the “aha” moment might come to the project, so as the project manager, you must confront reality and be open to change. This can mean suddenly altering your original plans because you recognize the potential right in front of you and want to create an environment that allows answers to come to light.


Guest Author: Mindy Coblentz, Associate, Project Manager, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Mantra: “If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” -Dale Carnegie