Steps to Success: Puyallup School District
Located in northwestern Washington State, Puyallup School District serves about 23,000 K-12 students. The district manages three comprehensive high school campuses, an alternative high school, and a digital learning center, along with seven junior high and 22 elementary school locations. Puyallup uses e-Builder Enterprise to keep track of building and life cycle replacement projects and new construction at each of these sites, in addition to 12 support sites.
Puyallup’s construction program is cyclical, with periods of intense activity followed by a few years of downtime. In September 2019, the district opened four new elementary schools, three of them replacements of older buildings. “We’ve been growing by about 400 students per year for the past five or six years,” says Gary Frentress, Executive Director of Capital Projects for the district. “In 2020, we’re in the middle of four construction projects, one fire restoration and numerous small capital projects and with one of the major construction projects going out to bid early this year.”
Serving 23,000 K-12 students, Puyallup School District’s capital program needed a system that could help them complete construction projects on-time and on-budget.
The district’s construction is cyclic, with periods of intense activity followed by downtime. This made it difficult for teams to keep up with changing project decisions and budgets.
e-Builder provided a central hub for communications, document management, and project oversight—and its 420 users now include contractors, subcontractors, and design consultants.
With capital projects and accounting systems now integrated, the district relies on e-Builder Enterprise to keep track of cost and to manage change orders and other project details.
“We needed a system that could help us deliver on-time, on-budget construction, and we chose e-Builder Enterprise.”
- Gary Frentress, Executive Director of Capital Projects
The district selected e-Builder Enterprise construction management software in 2011. Prior to that, they relied on a custom-made system. “The person at the consulting firm who developed it was leaving, so we had to find another solution,” Frentress says. “We needed a system that could help us deliver on-time, on-budget construction, and we chose e-Builder Enterprise.”
For the next four years, Puyallup implemented e-Builder internally. In 2015, when project management software coordinator Katie Dickinson joined the team, they started to roll it out more broadly to additional departments. Today, 420 users have access to the system, most of them contractors, subcontractors and design consultants involved in our construction projects.
The Implementation Process
Documentation was the first piece of the puzzle for Puyallup SD. “We’ve worked to standardize our document structures with templates so everyone knows where to look for the information they need,” says Dickinson. “e-Builder Enterprise is a great application with lots of features for that.”
Starting in 2011, Puyallup spent significant time integrating e-Builder Enterprise with the district’s accounting software, Business Plus. “For us, integration with accounting is one of the most important tools because a lot of other documents relate back to it,” Frentress says. “It took time and effort to build that integration, but it was worthwhile.”
Today, the district also relies on e-Builder Enterprise to keep track of cost, manager change orders, and other project details. “I do a wide variety of accounting reports within the system to keep track of our different funding streams for small and large capital projects,” says Frentress. “We encourage project managers to add status updates, and that’s become a really useful feature for us.”
In the future, Dickinson hopes to activate e-Builder’s Enterprise’s Bidding and Planning modules as well. “We’re not using everything yet, but we’ve come a long way since 2015,” she says.
"For us, integration with accounting is one of the most important tools because a lot of other documents relate back to it..."
- Gary Frentress, Executive Director of Capital Projects
Tips for K-12 Districts
Looking back at nearly a decade of experience with e-Builder, Frentress and Dickinson have a few tips to share with other K-12 districts seeking a successful implementation:
Communicate clearly with all stakeholders.
Districts should ensure that key players such as capital construction leaders and regular accounting teams are involved from the very beginning. “Develop a plan of action and open the doors for clear and frequent communication,” Dickinson says. “Also, make sure the people who are doing the work have adequate knowledge of the data and how the system handles it. A business analyst can tie all those pieces together.”
Hire a specialist.
To achieve true success, Frentress said their district needed to hire a full-time software specialist. “We were feeling our way along at first and trying to implement e-Builder Enterprise on a part-time basis,” he says. “Having a specialist like Dickinson on board who understands how all the puzzle pieces fit together is really helpful.”
Provide ongoing training.
A full-time software specialist can also provide training and support for team members who are new to construction management software. “Even with our capital staff, there are varying abilities to do certain tasks and there’s a lot of stuff we have to revisit on a regular basis,” says Frentress. “To succeed, you need to provide your team with individual training and professional development over time.” The District takes advantage of the e-Builder online training portal as a source for information for their end users and participates very actively in the community portal.
Take it one step at a time.
Construction management software such as e-Builder Enterprise contains many features and management options, and it can be challenging to implement everything at once. “For us, adopting one module at a time was more successful in the end,” says Frentress. “When you’re dealing with smaller pieces, it’s easier to focus and experience success without feeling overwhelmed.”