San Antonio: Project Team for ChildSafe Unpacks the Design/Construction Challenges
Feature Photo (above): From the central visitation area, the open-air courtyard can be seen through the windows.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — The design and contractor team of Overland Partners and Guido Construction recently celebrated the completion of ChildSafe’s Harvey E. Majim Children & Family Center, and took the time during the August 2 open house to reflect on this architecturally unique project.
The ChildSafe treatment center for abused children, located on a spacious campus at 3730 Interstate 10 East, is the product of years of dreaming, fundraising and thoughtful planning. The 65,000-square-foot U-shaped two-story facility is nestled into a beautifully landscaped 15.4-acre property that provides 43,000 square feet of manicured green spaces where children and families can walk and play in a healing environment.
The building is shared by the ChildSafe nonprofit, which dedicated spaces for the San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Juvenile Probation. Overland had to arrange separate entrances to ensure the independence and compartmentalization needed for each mission.
ChildSafe scheduled a week-long program that concludes today, Aug. 8, at the new Salado Creek Campus. For more information about the facility, see their YouTube video here. The new facility is five times the size of the organization’s previous home.
Various energy saving and sustainability features were designed and installed to provide future maintenance and operations savings. Overland custom designed a rain capture roof system that has no rain gutters or downspouts.
The ChildSafe project panel (from right to left): Casey Pearson/Guido Construction; Mike Addkison/ChildSafe project director; Michael Rey/Overland Partners; Kim Abernethy/ChildSafe CEO; James Lancaster/Overland Partners; and in the role of moderator (standing far left) Siboney Diaz-Sanchez/Overland Partners. Photo: Adolfo Pesquera.
What follows are excerpts from a panel Q&A.
Guido Construction project superintendent Casey Pearson said the project presented plenty of challenges from beginning to end. The property had never been developed, so there were unknowns to be expected.
While drilling piers, they hit water 20 feet down.
“The key to this whole job is getting the foundation, right,” Pearson said. “Then, as you can tell by the layout of this building, well, it’s not your typical 90 degree perpendicular grid lines.”
Inside and out, the building zig-zags to various geometric shapes. And everywhere one goes, there are nooks and crannies deliberately placed to provide children, staff and others places for solitude or intimate conversations.
View of the front facade. Photo: Adolfo Pesquera
Overland project manager James Lancaster said he had just come off an emotionally draining project and he wasn’t sure he was quite up to taking on a project that had such a sensitive mission, “just knowing the subject matter and being a parent myself.”
From the first meeting onward, and in getting to know ChildSafe President and CEO Kim Abernethy and the team, Lancaster said their feelings ran the gamut.
“We lived together, we cried together, were drinking together,” Lancaster said. “And it was fun. And that’s something I never thought that I would experience. I think I found a passion for working for nonprofits, and I enjoy the process and also walking with them.”
The east side of the ChildSafe building. A metal sculpture gourd is visible in the distance. Located to the rear (south) of the building, it has a chamber that children can climb into. Photo: Adolfo Pesquera.
Overland principal in charge Michael Rey, asked about value engineering, recalled what had to be done when the budget wouldn’t permit them to proceed at the original scale. The gross area had to be reduced and they had to find ways to cut costs.
“But this is what was special about this project. On every single change, every design, everything we did we asked, ‘How’s it going to affect the children? Or if we do this, how does it affect the people that work here?'”
At every step, the designers made sure not to hamper critical missions of the organization and they saved those most unique features, such as the green roof.
Addressing the need to reduce space, Lancaster said, “I think the first thing was just realizing that it would have to be a holistic approach. “We, as a design team, said, ‘Okay, this is how much we’re over budget and go back and think of ways that we could reduce the cost within our sphere of influence.
“We literally sucked the building in by a foot,” Lancaster said. Much of that was accomplished by reduced hall widths from seven to six feet.
Not everything was about cutting costs. The budget for energy saving features was increased by about $750,000.
One of Rey’s key takeaways from the project was how Abernethy had a vision as big as her mission.
“One thing that I noticed is that the nonprofit world varies just as much as any other sort of space,” Rey said. “For any of those who are associated with a nonprofit, dream as big as Kim is dreaming … because I think the failure that I see in the nonprofit space is there is a limitation to the dream of those organizations.
“Sometimes, we should push each other to really push beyond that–to have that higher aspiration. And I think this project is is an artifact of the aspiration. So for me … I think through that more. I try to engage our clients like that, and I can see myself as an advocate for better.”
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.