Ever wonder how new K-12 schools get funded, planned, built, and operated? There’s a lot more involved than just teachers, students and the PTA, and Jennifer Gibb from Van Pelt Construction Services explains many of the challenges and opportunities facing our communities when building for our future. Tune in to this conversation for a deeper dive into the state of K-12 school infrastructure and learn how you can support our next generation of learners.
“There's operational sides to all these things that we're talking about, but if you think about capital along with an operational plan or agreement or way we're going to actually use the space for our total community, you're able to provide a better resource. And that long-term investment feels better and pays off a little bit more as we go out and are thoughtful planners in our communities”
Welcome to the ONEder podcast. This is your host CCB with another conversation with somebody in the ecosystem of spaces designed to bring out the best in people. At One Workplace we work with lots of industries, and different market segments creating spaces. And it's really delightful to be able to dive more deeply into each one of them.
Today's guest is someone from one of those market segments, from one of those industries, who's gonna share with us a lot more information around how schools actually get built today. I'm going to just say wow, because the amount of detail and logistics that are engaged in bringing a new school to your community is, beyond mind boggling. So I'm delighted that we have Jennifer Gibb with us today, who we get to call Jen, and she's with Van Pelt Construction Services. I’m going to say welcome Jen. Let’s start this conversation with you sharing what you do as Director of Business Development with VCPS.
Thank you so much for having me, excited to be here today. I am the Director of Business Development with VCPS. We are a program and construction management firm in primarily K12 school construction. We also work in community colleges at the UC and CSU level, and then in hospitals, where the babies are born and where they spend their life career until they become adults. We love building those facilities for all the kids. So really excited to be here, love what I do, and I don't think many people can say that. So, thank you for having me.
The enthusiasm and the and the knowledge that you bring to your role every day is I mean it really is invigorating, I love having conversations with you. So, I want to say first off, tell us how did you get to be so embroiled in the you know details of bringing schools online.
Well, it started I'm a numbers person, so I went to Sonoma State. Have a bachelor's in finance. I love the analytics, right? And then I just happened on a job advertisement in Napa Valley Unified when I was in my early twenty’s right out of college and started working in the planning and construction department, like boots on the ground it was... I said it might not be where I end but it's definitely where I want to start, and I just fell in love with what I do today right? and building our schools and community. My husband's a contractor and I'm always like oh I built this I built that and he's funny, he's like “you didn't build it”, I'm like I didn't physically build it, but the work that I do, the planning and helping support our schools and our communities really on the strategic planning level can't happen. You can't build it, unless you're doing that planning, and so really love doing that. And kind of just followed it through. I worked for the public sector for a span of 10 years and then I moved over to private and worked for a funding firm again. Just always kind of been on the finance level of school construction and then I had the opportunity to join Van Pelt in 2022 and do program management as well as you know, so tell the world about the great work that we do and work with our districts throughout the state.
Okay, so you also are certified I'm going to use all the big acronyms and full explanation of who these organizations are, just so we start to get a feeling for the fact that the California Association of School Business Officials, CASBO, has certified you as a chief business official. And you graduated from the Coalition for Adequate School Housing or CASH, as we know it, for School Facilities Leadership. Now that’s what I want you to describe for us, what's a chief business officer in a school?
Yeah, basically. A Chief Business Officer is the, like the CFO of a corporation, right? A school district is a corporation in a sense. It's running and it's actually a little bit more intricate. They have, sometimes, you know 10 to 20 different funds that they manage and those are all little, I always think of them as little businesses, so they all have their own set of rules, their own requirements. The goals of the funding that comes in and so understanding the intricacies of the district’s finance and school business is, I think, helped me in the capital side, right? There's two sides of a business, the operational side and then the capital side and so taking my CBO’s certification and going through that program, I got in-depth knowledge of everything from custodial plans, of how to line up our FTEs, our full-time employees, as they maintain and clean our facilities for the students, to how you put a food service plan together, and then payroll. You know retirement benefits, how you put together and a teaching plan. All of those types of things are wound into the CBO certification. So definitely a lot of great information in that program and it gave me a great foundation for being able to understand the day to day of what districts are going through, as they think about how to serve the kids in the facilities that we're helping to build for them.
When I say mind boggling, I really, it does boggle my mind that we don't think about what a school district, you know, might be comprised of and you think about their students and there are teachers and there’s administration. But, to manage the complexity of each one of the districts much less as it rolls up, to a regional, or, you know, a state or a federal…So I was doing a bunch of homework and I came across this ah, this one statistic that frightened me and it said that the American Society of Civil Engineering gave US K-12 school infrastructure a D grade. That there is such incredible need in updating schools and in refurbishing or ground up new, new educational facilities to support K-12. So let's just stop at K-12, not go into the any of the higher ed. But I know that there was that assembly bill 247, I'm going to ask you a little bit more about that because when I looked up where does the funding come from, and I know you're going to be so much more articulate about this, but the local district funds generally on average 77% of a project, the state funds about 22%, and right now it's like 1% come from the feds. So you're not getting funds. You're having to count on, or each one of those school districts is having to count on their local area to fund the cost of upgrading or building any new school. So, my guess is if we got a whole bunch of schools that are getting a D, that the need is gigantic and how do you in your role approach, you know, supporting?
Yeah, that's one of our biggest struggles that we find is that there's not never enough money for school facilities. And you're right. When a district is so lucky to have a general obligation passed at the local level, they are able to get that 70% of funding for their projects, but at the general fund level on annual basis for a district's funding, there isn't really any extra money that a district can use for any true capital improvement. So, they do rely significantly on that local general obligation support, or developer fees which are, in my opinion, underfunded just by the state statutory fee, but it's a little something right? So, we do look for opportunities such as AB 247 which was funded by the general fund surplus over the last several years, and then there are several potential state bonds for 2024 which will be becoming SB 28 - 247, so I think that you know it's exciting to know and see that we could get another state bond. We haven't had one since prop 51 and 2016, but we definitely need funding for school facilities.
Yeah, I saw that remember we had a conversation earlier and there was that statistic that 30% of our K 12 classrooms are over fifty years old and 10% are over seventy years old so we say that out loud and we think okay, they're old facilities. But what does that mean when you say old facilities to the functioning activity within the classroom and within the school district and I saw another comment that underfunded school buildings cause or accentuate health problems, undermine student and teacher performance. There's so much that goes into why might an older building not work for our students.
Yeah, over the last several years there's been significant studies in the physical characteristics of a building and how that impacts the student learning opportunity and/or achievement in our kiddos as they're sitting in those 50/70-year old buildings. So the California School Facilities Research Institute did a really great study published a year ago that was in depth just about the optimal temperature in which students learn versus a teacher, right? There's a several degrees difference and it really does make a difference. Lighting makes a huge difference in how our kids learn and/or receive and take in that information as in regards to actually being able to achieve from it, and retain it. Food - the whole students receiving food and, and the universal meals program that started at the federal level during covid, but now is in California and all the kids get two free meals per day, really does make a difference. I mean if you, you as a human - you are hungry, are you really paying attention? Think about our kiddos that don't have the opportunity, or lack food support at home, nutritional support at home, and then come in and we're expecting them to sit in a desk for 8 hours and be receptive to learning for their future. So that's a really, really great program, and that being said, schools don't have the facilities needed to provide the nutritional wellness. You need kitchens, you need the proper equipment, you need storage for the food, dry and cold storage, so those types of things - these are really great programs that are being implemented at the legislative level and then as they fall down to the local level, we're being required, we being school districts, are being required to implement those programs without the necessary financial resources to build the facilities needed to truly implement the programs on how the legislation would ideally like them to be implemented. So, I want to say though, every school district in the state is, just as our kids are, are resilient. They go forth always being able to figure out a way to implement these programs or these mandates let's say, with the resources that they have. And, like you said we have a “D” grade, right? If we could get some more financial resources, we could definitely improve those facilities - “C”, “B”, “A” would be amazing. There's just a lot of opportunity out there.
Yeah, so in your role in providing the services that the VPCS does what does a day look like, or what does a week look like because I'm sure it's not the same every day. But in what you know in in what you do? What kinds of meetings or what kinds of tours or what kinds of activities are you engaged in.
Every day is different in in my world, but I love it. This week I'm attending two conferences that we're having, we have the opportunity, one, to learn about upcoming technology and the innovations that there are happening, that's at the CITE conference in Sacramento, and then I'm going to be down at CSBA which is California School Board Association Conference on Friday in San Francisco, meeting with our local boards and superintendents and I also get the opportunity to work on a project that is planning for future bonds, and a build of a brand new middle school. So I'm doing some of the strategic planning of that right now just at the very infant stages of planning meeting with stakeholders, understanding what the programming is going to be and how much that facility will cost as we phase out the construction over the next five years. And this week I don't have any board meetings but often you know I'm going to board meetings either advising on the services that we provide from VPCS for construction management and program management supporting the bond programs that are recently passed and or providing, details on some of my own clients that I represent for Van Pelt in some of the programs that we're doing So. It's always exciting and fun, and in between there I find time to take care of my kids and my my husband and sleep, I do sleep sometimes, but…
I don't believe that, I don't believe that Jen. I've tried, we've been trying to catch up for a long time and there's a lot of activity and a lot of movement. One of the things, you know I was thinking about… thinking about a conversation that we had earlier, when you're talking about the the way that schools were built, if we talked about that 50 or 70-y ear old structure and the way that communities have changed over time, and so even the even if the building itself could be you know, better refurbished or upgraded, there still is the the situation itself, the location, the site of the the structure. And we worked on a big huge project, Agnew Campus down in Santa Clara, it's amazing. I mean it's a totally astonishing 55- acre elementary school middle school and high school structures, surrounded by landscaping. And the drop off, for the major campus is, is like I'm going to say it's like a running track that it goes around, and they have two or three lanes, and folks you know monitoring traffic and getting people dropped off. So it made me think about that conversation that we had that great, you have a school and it's in the middle of a neighborhood and how do you help your clients think about those kinds of things that are… they're just so broad.
That's such an important thing to think about, I mean we think about the classrooms and those are, definitely have changed over the last fifty - seventy years but you still need a 960 Square foot space for the kids to show up. How the kids get there, and what other types of facilities, ancillary facilities they have available to them is super important. And we work incredibly close with the California Department of Education's facilities team. They are amazing to work with, and the Division of State Architecture, but really CDE, we work closely with them when we're programming for the Title 5 regulations. And understanding exactly how that drop-off and pickup needs to be for the safety, the flow, the you know…. You get the stacking of the cars, get them dropped off because the traffic, the vehicle miles, people coming, are they walking? Are they biking? Are they driving? All of those things need to be taken into consideration, and they often are kind of the last thing, right? We're thinking about the students and how they're going to learn, right? And there's also an initiative at the state that is I mean, near and dear to my heart. The Whole Child. Understanding how the facility, how the community, the school community, helps serve the whole child. But you can't do that in the facilities that we have that are 50-70 years old. We need family resource centers. We need the drop off/pickup because now we're going to…the Agnew, that is an amazing campus. I mean every parent wishes they only had to go to one place to drop off like their three kids right, because it's elementary, middle and high school. But for the rest of us who aren't so fortunate to go to that amazing campus, you know you're driving across town. I go to two different schools across town for my kiddos, and so those types of things really do play into the role of the child and how they experience their day. Drop off/pickup, you think about it's the most stressful eight minutes of your life, twice a day. Like in that drop off/pickup line and the kids and there's cars honking and kids walking across the street. And you're like ah do I go, do I go, get out of a car! And it's that type of stress that now, my son Malcom, and I'm like, hurry get out! That's what's happening in my brain I'm trying not to put that on him but it's stressful for a parent just getting through that drop off pickup because it was built fifty years ago. And it hasn't been upgraded and there's not enough land. There isn't the space in these neighborhood schools. And they're great schools, but with the ways and the opportunities from the program side…we have magnet schools, we have in our district, transfers, we are able to allow a lot more flexibility at the district level now. But with that you do need the facility improvements. The safety standards and aspects from a Title 5 perspective for just the parking lot are incredibly important, and it does aid in that whole child getting to class at eight o'clock or eight thirty in the morning, just feeling ready to learn instead of stressed out and anxiety ridden, right?
I mean these little examples are the things that I think help people understand, tell the story so that... I was just doing some other research on another project and ah, it's about the aging population. So, ten thousand Americans turn 65 every day. Okay, stop and think about that. By 2040, we're going to have more in the 65 and older than we will you know at any time in our in our country. And so all those people don't have the understanding because of where they were, you know, from a schooling perspective. And if you're 20 years or 30 years or 40 years removed from your kids having been in schools, how would you even know that these kinds of things were of such major concern, and requiring such attention? So I love that we can have these conversations and share them, to be able to say “Hey, let's stop and think about this” in a way that we haven't had to think about, and we clearly have not thought about since our schools are in the in the state that they're in.
So I want to say from a positive you know, optimistic perspective the work that you do you're constantly busy. You have you know, loads and loads of of clients that are, you know, that are moving in the right direction. What like positive movement or what like really enthusiastic messaging can you share with us so that people start to get the feeling that oh yeah, and in fact, there are other good things going on.
I think that we're in a really great time right now I mean, education and the opportunities that our kids have access to. And the teacher innovation and just the programs that are out there, the ways kids learn the access to information is so amazing. I have two kids 13 and 10, so I'm right in the thick of it. But I think it is, we have to think about how what we do today is going to serve for the next twenty, 30, 50 years. And the investment that we do today, really will pay off. We've, we invested back fifty years ago. We've done improvements in the early 2000s and it's crazy to think, but 2000 was twenty years ago, so we need to invest again. And there will be local bonds on the ballot in your communities in March and November, and potentially that state bond in November. And, and we do say, it's pretty interesting, I mean in your community, maybe you're not pro-bonds but, I am. Ah, I think there's definitely a need and every penny counts towards the kiddos, and you think about it, if a state bond passes and you don't have local money to match, like you said that 70 to 30 or 50 to 50 whatever the matching opportunities may be, and you don't have that that local opportunity to match? You're still paying at the state level. So, when the state bonds pass, and why not capture some of that state money for your local community? And make that dollar, a dollar fifty for your kids and your community. That's what we used to always say. and I still do when I actually work for the school district it was help me make this dollar, a dollar fifty. I can go get the money if you entrust me with the local monies. We can definitely match a state and federal, and that's what those programs are about and so there's really great work happening out there. And trusting your local leaders and your communities and your contractors and partners such as us, to steward those funds because we all are, it really is, for the kids. We're all in it for the kids and for the next generation and helping to build these amazing facilities that our teachers get to teach in and our students get to learn in. And they are community resources. Most community schools and public schools are available to the community for use and so you're building really building an asset in your community. Whether it's a local library or a sports field or even a playground. I mean, I don't have a playground in my backyard for my kids; we go to the local park or school to play and swing. And so, those types of spaces are definitely needed. And just drive around your community and see the great work that has been done and there's definitely a significant amount that still does need to be done. Um, but we can't do that without support at the local and the state level.
You just made me, you reminded me of another conversation that I heard recently, where it was a group of architects and school programmers that were working around, blended learning. So, digital and physical spaces and programs. So, you're talking about the new technology conference that you're going to go to and hear more about what's going on. But the architect who had worked in the school district and then in school facilities, and then he moved back to the architecture practice, but he said at one point in time they were working on planning and programming for an elementary school, and they needed a library and there was a public library that was underused across the street. So they figured out the way, they proposed building the bridge so that the school accessed the public library, you know, increased the usability, decreased the cost of the school project. And to me, it's just fascinating that the more that people are thinking in the creative way, the better off we all are because we're going to be able to come up with better solutions. And to your point about, they’re assets in the community, that if schools are used by schools for what percentage of the time? Is it….
Of the day?
Of the day - I mean is it like if a day was you know 24 hours your school is being utilized for
Less than you know, 50% of the day. Yeah.
… less than 50%, so there's a there is a space and a resource asset. You know that's not being utilized but if it's thought about as a part of a community if that it does increase the usability and decrease the cost for the entire community. So yeah.
Absolutely yeah, absolutely I think what's interesting is our constituents are the same constituents as the city, as the county, right? School district constituents. And so, a homeowner who pays taxes or just someone who lives in our community paying taxes, they don't understand that we're all different agencies, operating under different regulations and different initiatives, different boards, different strategic plans. And I believe, the goal is that we work together, right? Schools are infrastructure, of a city, of a county, and we should (this is my personal belief,) we should work together for the betterment of our community. And as we build infrastructure, we're really thoughtful about how we build that infrastructure right? If a community needs a community pool and then your high school also needs a pool, I don't know that it's fiscally responsible for two community pools. When we could work out an operation agreement through a joint use and an MOU, memorandum of understanding, between the two agencies to help us better use that facility 100 % of the time. Or even 80%, I mean I'm not expecting people to swim at two o'clock in the morning. But, you get what I'm saying. I think, if we can really work together and partner for our community when we build these facilities or plan out, and we've been doing that. And and so, it's not hopeless, we have been doing that actively. That's something that I’m very passionate about and close to what I do every day is really try to connect communities, connect the agencies and be thoughtful and a little bit more visionary in our planning. And so school districts out there doing it, and really being more fiscally prudent and figuring out how to have community resources such as really common - public libraries, sports fields – and sometimes even if you have a middle school and a high school adjacent, you can share classroom spaces or CTE/career technical educational spaces, maker spaces. Those types of rooms where you know for a $1000 dollars a square foot, uh, you can get a little bit more out of it providing it too. It does, there's operational sides to all these things that we're talking about, but if you think about capital along with an operational plan or agreement, or way we're going to actually use the space for our total community, you're able to provide a better resource and that long-term investment feels better and pays off a little bit more as we go out and we're thoughtful planners in our communities.
Conversations that we've had have sparked me to think more in that in that kind of more holistic perspective or viewpoint on how to pull things together. And I mean, we have we as an independent American culture, have compartmentalized a lot of things that now, it doesn't serve us to have the compartmentalization any further. And so, being more aware certainly is helping all of us. Your point about the, you know, shared assets, I heard another conversation with, it was a university, but Pullman University up in Washington. There's a fellow there that noticed that there were maker spaces and or tools, you know, resources, that the art department might have the 3D printer and somebody in another department might be asking for a 3D printer. So, they ended up creating an index of assets and sharing across disciplines and across departments again, leveraging them more effectively. So, we stop and think, it's a question of communication. It's a question of sharing information. You know, how do we do all of these things more effectively, so that, again to your point, it’s in service to the education of our of our students no matter where they are.
Absolutely. I was just going to say, it's all about communication. We just have to talk to each other. I am not short of doing that in any way, so I can definitely help you out if you need to spark a conversation. But definitely, getting a seat at the table, everybody coming together. Those two by twos, when you get your local agencies together with your school district and have your planners, your representatives like Van Pelt or people who are supporting you from the outside there to help guide the conversation, sometimes helps as well. Um, you know, just because there's might be bring outside perspectives, if there is maybe opportunities that you need to work through.
Well there's also the, you and folks you know that are that do this every day have so much richer knowledge and understanding about what's going on, as compared to schools or districts that are just doing the one big thing for the first time in 30 years, for example. You know so it's kind of like…But I also have been, I'm going to say, heartened by the fact, as opposed to being disheartened, but by the fact that there is a lot of movement in our in our K-12 schools in California, at this moment in time. So, there's you know more population in certain areas which is demanding for resources in different areas. And there have been bonds passed so we're seeing you know, more activity which certainly is, it's helpful to the students. It's certainly helpful to the parents, you know, and to the members of the community that are that are concerned about this. So, we're at the tail end of our time. I always am surprised when it pops up because it’s like ‘No, we just started this conversation!’ There's so much to talk about! But if I say thank you very much Jen for joining us from Van Pelt Construction Services and sharing your knowledge and experience. We're incredibly grateful. And you get a minute to say anything else you want to say, what other pearl of wisdom would you like to share with our audience.
Well thank you again for having me. I just want to say thank you to everyone out there doing the great work for the kids. I think we don't realize the impact that we really do have on a daily basis, whether you’re a constituent, or a school district employee doing the great work, or support such as myself and our team. We really are making a difference every day in the future for the communities, the kids that we serve. And just keep doing the great work. It isn't, and isn't for waste, and when there is an opportunity to vote for your local bond or support financially to a program in any way, either at the state level, local level, at your local school. I also sit on Education Foundation Board for Napa Valley and I'm the board president, and I just think I'm really passionate about the things that we do for our kids, and for this next generation. So it all is for the kids, that's my hashtag.
Well, it's all for the kids and it all pays off. So, thank you, thank you, thank you. I am going to remind all our listeners that our ONEder podcast, all the episodes are available on Spotify and Apple and all the podcasting services. And also, the website of the ONEder podcast on our One Workplace webpage will have all the connections and links to any of the references that we've made in this conversation. So, if you have more interest in catching up with Jen or Van Pelt Construction Services or getting any of those statistics, we're happy to share them. And we hope that we all continue moving forward in the most positive way. Thanks a bunch, bye bye.