To assist with fundraising for a private, faith-based boarding school proposed to serve socially and economically disadvantaged youth from the Como neighborhood in southwest Fort Worth, Texas A&M students recently crafted real estate proposals for the project, including design concepts, construction schedules and operating cost estimates.
“These kids need something better,” said Randy Brown, founder and board chairman of Rivertree Academy, formerly known as Building, Uniting and Restoring Neighborhoods, or B.U.R.N., Ministries, a nondenominational Christian outreach organization that funds programs providing opportunities benefiting youth in the high-crime, low-income Como area.
“These children,” Brown said, “are living in an environment that is toxic to their souls.”
One of the group’s solutions, Rivertree Academy, will one day provide academic education, religious instruction and room and board for 200 students, grades 6 – 12, on a 120-acre campus that includes a fully functioning farm. The unique farm/campus will be built on donated land, a former country club and golf course, located about 12 miles southeast of downtown Fort Worth.
The interdisciplinary project is championed by Kevin Youngblood, who with his wife Nicole, sits on the Rivertree Academy Board of Directors. Both are generous benefactors of Texas A&M programs. They are members of the Bryan N. Mitchell ’70 family whose $2.3 million Mitchell Initiative endowment benefits College of Architecture and Mays Business School students seeking careers in the construction industry.
Kevin and Nicole are also namesakes for the Youngblood Endowed Professorship in Land Development, currently held by Geoffrey Booth, the professor who orchestrated collegewide collaboration on the Rivertree project.
To facilitate robust interdisciplinary collaboration on the boarding school project, Booth used his professorship funds to organize a competition, dividing the 58 participating students into 13 teams, each equitably appointed with graduate construction management and land development students and undergraduate environmental design students. As a further incentive, each member of the winning team, as selected by a jury, received a $1000 award.
Given wide latitude to envison the project, the competing teams were tasked to create an inspiring, nurturing environment in which disadvantaged students could thrive. The assignment called for using sustainable design principles and green construction techniques in a phased, cost-effective project presented as a real estate proposal to a jury composed of clients and industry professionals.
The competition replicated the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) process, an alternative to the traditional design-bid-build construction approach that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into an undertaking that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results.
“IPD requires the formation of a comprehensive, interdisciplinary team at project initiation and gives everyone equal incentives and motives to achieve collective success,” said Mark Clayton, the architecture professor whose undergraduate studio collaborated on the project. “The experience prepared students for success in cutting-edge 21st-century practice.”
The IPD process, he said, also helped students better understand the collaborative setting of real-world practice, in which a project inevitably requires interaction among clients, designers and builders.
Assisting Booth and Clayton as the third leader of the Rivertree Academy project was Julian Kang, instructor of the participating construction management students and holder of the History Maker Homes Endowed Professorship, also funded by the Mitchell Initiative.
The project launched last January with a student field trip to the former golf course and country club that is destined to become Rivertree Academy’s farm/campus. There they met Brown and Terrence Butler, the academy’s executive director, who both worked with the teams, providing useful feedback throughout the semester as the proposals took shape.
The 13 final proposals were presented in an April 17 marathon session at Texas A&M’s Evans Library to a jury composed of Rivertree Academy administrators and board members, including Kevin and Nicole Youngblood, as well as Bryan N. Mitchell, CEO of History Maker Homes, and Harold Adams ’61, chairman emeritus of RTKL Associates and an Outstanding Alumnus of Texas A&M’s College of Architecture.
“All the teams created cost-effective proposals that will inspire potential donors to invest in the project,” said Booth.
The winning group proposed a three-phase, seven-year construction initiative that would provide 12 buildings at a total cost of $22.5 million. The campus' main structures — the school; administrative offices; a multipurpose space called “The Barn” to be used as a dining room, kitchen and event area; dormitories; and an architecturally significant chapel — are all centrally nestled amid green space that will be used for recreation, flower gardens, farmland, orchards and grazing animals.
The plan calls for the expansion of the school facility and the student and staff dormitories with each phase of construction.
The first phase calls for renovating the clubhouse into administrative offices, the initial construction of the school and dormitories, and completion of the multipurpose center, which is to include a dining area, a “learning kitchen” that students can use, as well as a farmers’ market area. The second floor of the repurposed clubhouse will provide hotel rooms for visiting family members.
Natural light is emphasized throughout the schoolhouse, which features bright space for art classes with windows overlooking a student garden and the adjoining farm. The facility also offers science labs, performing arts space and high-tech multimedia classrooms.
The team envisoned two-story dormitories built in U-shaped clusters for girls, boys and faculty, each with a courtyard in the center and four-foot roof overhangs providing plenty of shade. The dorms are to be equipped with solar panels and designed to produce more energy than they use. Additionally, the rooftops are to be outfitted with a rainwater capturing system, facilitating irrigation of the surrounding landscape.
Phase II calls for expansion of the school and dorms, and Phase III of the project introduces the campuses’ featured structure, the Crown Chapel, which students characterized as the “jewel of the site.” The septagon-shaped chapel features a gabled roof that resembles a crown. It overlooks a pond and is surrounded by a landscaped environment suited for wedding ceremonies, prayer walks, personal retreats, and meetings. This phase also includes additional expansion of student housing and school facilities.
The winning group provided projected costs to operate the site as it grows. In 2017, after Phase I of the construction schedule is completed, the academy is projected to have an annual operating cost of $601,600, growing to $1.7 million after the completion of Phase III.
Members of the winning group are Sima Aliabbar, Mohammad Farzad and Mengyan Xiao, Master of Science in Construction Management students, Bardia Jahangiri, a Master of Land and Property Development student, and Alyssa Gainer, a senior Bachelor of Environmental Design student.