During the 2016-2017 school year, general contractor McCarthy Building Companies and architect DLR Group teamed up to remodel Arredondo Elementary School in the Tempe Elementary School District. The school was originally built in 1973 and needed a major overhaul.

Due to the renovation, students were placed at a different campus for the school year. But the renovation also presented unique learning opportunities that the district, McCarthy and DLR Group pursued as a team with the participation of several local subcontractors, including Hawkeye Electric, Stone Cold Masonry and Rouser Concrete.

Students sign the project’s last steel beam.

With construction projects, there are many practical applications of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Using special lessons, students in grades K-5 were given a hands-on role in the construction of the school through unique STEM learning opportunities in masonry, concrete and framing over the course of the school year.

In partnership with Tempe Elementary School District’s Facilities Management For Learners team, McCarthy’s Education construction team conducted several lessons. For example, students learned about the different uses of brick and concrete blocks, before discussing the technique of spreading mortar to hold blocks together.

“I am so pleased that all of our Roadrunners have had an amazing opportunity to actually be a part of the building process. The chance for them to work alongside architects, contractors and other construction professionals in the creation of a new school is something they will remember for the rest of their lives,” said Arredondo Principal Alison Bruening-Hamati. “Our hope is that they are inspired by the experience to eventually pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. So often, we have to create a ‘real-world experience’ for students in STEM. This time, the real-world experience has come to Arredondo and we have the awesome chance to connect it to learning.”

In the concrete lesson, students eagerly finished a math worksheet that combined how to find the area of concrete needed along with how much it will cost before heading outside. A quick pit stop was made as students signed their name on a steel beam that was hoisted up inside the elevator shaft.

Arredondo Elementary School in Tempe (Photo courtesy of McCarthy Building Companies)

“Our design and construction team has worked closely with the students throughout the year and it’s been remarkable to see how much they learned from design charrettes, Google SketchUp activities and hands-on lessons with concrete, masonry, carpentry and more,” said Andrea Ramos, education project manager at McCarthy Building Companies. “We worked to ensure all lessons maximized use of materials. For example, in the carpentry lesson the students actually built and painted the forms for planter boxes that will be used at their school.”

Furthermore, the school gave students in fifth-grade the chance to assist in leading lessons with younger students, enabling them to develop leadership skills. An added component to the project was a McCarthy-built kiosk that was displayed in the cafeteria so students, teachers and parents could check in on the latest construction progress and view a live webcam, jobsite photos and photos from the hands-on lessons.

“I love that we got to be involved with something that helped build the school,” said now sixth-grade STEM student Brian Street. “It was really fun!”

Arredondo Elementary student

For McCarthy, DLR Group and the team of subcontractors, this experience came with a great reward – engaging with students who might have an interest in a construction career down the road.

“In recent years, we’ve struggled with finding qualified workers to fill positions,” Ramos said. “Programs like this give us an opportunity to reach students at an early age and show them different career choices or even open up doors to Career and Technical Education courses down the road.”

With its renovation of Arredondo Elementary, Tempe Elementary School District is leading the way in hands-on, STEM-related curriculum.