Behind the Scenes at The Little School Rivers Building

The Little School Rivers Building is the first in our “behind-the-scenes” project series! We’re excited to offer a new angle and a candid look at projects from our engineers’ perspective.

An extension of The Little School campus, the Rivers Building is used as an administrative and multipurpose space for students and staff. The project redeveloped 3.7-acres of the 12.6-acre property, including constructing a new multipurpose building and parking lots. The wood-framed building utilizes exposed custom mass timber trusses as the main roof framing elements in the Lobby and Multipurpose/Gym spaces.

We sat down with Structural Engineer Katie Keller, and Civil Engineer Jarrett Brown, to learn more.

Katie Keller, P.E., Structural Staff Engineer

What made this project different?
Katie: For a project with relatively small square footage, the Rivers Building packed in a lot of complex framing elements—most of which were exposed. The project quickly went from being a simple wood-framed building to needing a lot of custom and exposed mass timber connections.

Why did you like working on this project?
Katie: This project was the perfect example of seeing your designs come to life. I think what made it so special was that our structural trusses were exposed. In most buildings our structure is hidden, so it was fun to be able to design creative trusses knowing everyone would be able to see them when visiting the Rivers Building.

Do you have a favorite feature? Any engineering standouts?
Katie: Definitely the trusses. A lot of thought and back-and-forth with the architect went into designing these custom elements. I think they turned out amazing! The truss connections posed the most challenges, both in design and in construction.

What was one thing you learned during this process?
Katie: I learned so much about wood detailing during this project, especially as we made modifications and got the details exactly right.

I especially liked working with …
Katie: Architect, Kris Feliciano of Studio Meng Strazzara because of her unwavering positive attitude and creative approach.

How does this project impact the city or its community?
Katie: Not only does this additional space give The Little School room to expand, it also provides a draw for potential donors and new students. Even during construction, Little School leadership was excited to share, bringing potential donors into the space to see the progress. (The custom trusses were a highlight on these tours and a topic of conversation for everyone involved on the project.)

What is it like to see the finished product? What does it feel like to see this project complete?
Katie: Going on site visits for the Little School was always exciting and never a burden. The mass timber elements turned out beautifully and really tie into the heavily wooded surroundings of the campus. It always puts a smile on my face seeing the beautiful trusses, knowing these custom elements give the space an interesting element that visitors will be able to admire and enjoy.

And a few, fun quick-fires:
One word to describe this project: Detailed.
Project team member who needs a free lunch: Kris Feliciano (the architect) challenged us to get very creative with our detailing, but in the end designed a beautiful, standout space!
When visiting, the first thing I check out is: Always the trusses.
Next up, I can’t wait to design: More exposed mass timber connections.

Jarrett Brown, Civil Engineer

What made this project different?
Jarrett: The Little School really embraces outdoor learning and the revamped campus provides a natural setting for students to learn and explore. The focus was to create a very natural-looking site – the east half of the campus feels like a school within a forest and we saved as many trees as possible.

Why did you like working on this project?
Jarrett: This was my first project, so it was all new to me! I liked witnessing how the site evolved each time I visited, especially when the impressive infiltration vault was installed.

Do you have a favorite feature?
Jarrett: I love the terraced courtyard to the east of the multipurpose building! It required some detailed grading and drainage design, but turned out so nicely. There’s a special, decorative catch basin grate in the center of the brick spiral too.

What was the biggest challenge the team faced?
Jarrett: Installation of the infiltration vault during the winter created a challenge.

Instead of a typical stormwater detention facility, we used a combination detention and infiltration system, which is less expensive than typical storage facilities because it discharges runoff both downstream and into the ground. In addition to the system being one-quarter the size of a standard facility, it is also very sustainable: when it releases surface water into the ground, it recharges the groundwater table.

Heavy rain in the winter led to sediment-laden runoff entering the infiltration vault, clogging the storage space in the drainage rock. AESI (geotechnical engineer), Bayley (general contractor), and our Coughlin Porter Lundeen team worked together to over-excavate the vault and add an additional gravel pit drain, increasing the infiltration rate.

What was one thing you learned during this process?
Jarrett: This project encouraged me to learn about rainwater harvesting and how difficult it can be to make it practical. In this case, the school pursued rainwater harvesting as a teaching tool for the students and used it to supplement toilet flushing.

I especially liked working with…
Jarrett: Studio Meng Strazzara (the architect). Kris did a wonderful job tracking design changes and facilitating conversations among the team.

What is it like to see the finished product? What does it feel like to see this project complete?
Jarrett: This is the first project that I’ve been able to see the team’s efforts come to fruition! I enjoy walking around the site in the rain, getting to see the drainage patterns, and understanding how the design performs in the built environment.

And a few, fun quick-fires:
One word to describe this project: Not-so-little!
Project team member who needs a free lunch: Jenny Saltonstall (Associated Earth Sciences) weathered the storm (literally, it was dumping rain) to perform multiple infiltration tests and identify what needed to be done to improve the infiltration rate beneath the vault.
When visiting, the first thing I check out is: The multipurpose building entryway. The exposed wood and siding blend nicely with the woodchip landscaping and surrounding trees.
This project has the best: Design team.
Next up, I can’t wait to design: A large master planned multi-family development on the Eastside.

Project Team:
Architect: Studio Meng Strazzara
Owner: The Little School
General Contractor: Bayley Construction
Geotechnical Engineer: Associated Earth Sciences, Inc.
Mechanical & Electrical Engineer: BCE Engineers, Inc.
Landscape Designer: Weisman Design Group

Images © Andrew T. Storey, All Rights Reserved.