Erik Hagstrom – KIPP SoCal Public Schools
In Southern California, some public schools are overcrowded, leading to a lack of individualized attention for students with the most need. These students often struggle to keep up their grades and confidence.
“In many Southern California communities, students don’t have access to high quality public schools, so to be able to offer them a charter school alternative option that’s new and modern is very rewarding,” says Erik Hagstrom, the director of real estate for KIPP SoCal Public Schools. “We create spaces where students can excel and take pride in the school they attend.”
The nonprofit organization operates 23 tuition-free, open-enrollment public charter schools throughout Los Angeles County. KIPP stives to serve neighborhoods with fewer resources than affluent areas of the county and with a proven need for access to higher quality public school options. But identifying high need isn’t enough for the organization to open a school in an area—the community needs to be on board.
KIPP’s advocacy team meets with families, residents and elected officials to gather their feedback. If there’s demand for a public school alternative, Hagstrom and his team try to find a financially viable property to develop.
“This is the first step because we have to understand the community’s needs in order to ensure our presence there can be truly impactful,” he says. “It’s about creating an opportunity to shrink the achievement gap.”
According to Hagstrom, the outreach process takes about a year, with site selection, the permitting and entitlement process, and construction of a school each taking a year as well.
He says constructing a new school is all about building relationships between the project team, the community and local officials. This has proven especially true with two schools his team recently completed: KIPP Compton Community School and KIPP Philosophers Academy.
KIPP Compton Community School is a 34,000-square-foot elementary school with 26 classrooms. It’s located on an infill site in a residential neighborhood, which Hagstrom says required thoughtful design to reduce any impacts on nearby residents. Working with Berliner Architects, the building was purposefully configured around a courtyard-turned-play area that’s not visible from the street, creating a noise buffer. Berliner designed the door leading out to the courtyard to roll up like a garage door to connect the indoor and outdoor spaces.
Construction coincided with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which Hagstrom says created some challenges due to supply chain issues, labor shortages and permitting delays. He says the project wouldn’t have been finished on time if not for the contractor, Oltman’s Construction Co., advocating for it to be deemed essential. Oltman’s enforced strict safety protocols, such as masking and contact tracing, and completed the facility before the December 2020 deadline.
Staying on schedule
Despite the challenges, the KIPP Compton school came in $1 million under budget. Hagstrom attributes this to a consolidation of vendors, prudent spending decisions and constant communication between the developer, architect and general contractor.
“This made us more efficient and cost effective because everyone was always on the same page,” he says.
Hagstrom also credits KIPP’s internal construction manager, Sherita Bernardez, a lifelong Compton resident, with the project’s success.
“This one was personal for her,” he says. “The leadership she displayed on this project in her hometown was impressive.”
In March 2022, the project was awarded LA Business Journal’s Commercial Real Estate Bronze Award for Community Impact.
KIPP Philosopher’s Academy, which also came in under budget, is a 31,000-square-foot middle school with 22 classrooms. It was constructed on just over half an acre, so Franco Architects maximized the space available by designing a three-story building with an underground parking garage. This required securing a conditional use permit from the LA Department of City Planning and meeting the design requirements of the planning department and the city’s Urban Design Studio.
During construction, the project was almost thrown off schedule a few times. The parking garage was delayed when, during excavation, it was discovered that underground conditions weren’t what was expected, Hagstrom says. To ensure the school would be ready for students in fall 2021, the general contractor, EPI Construction, adjusted its project schedule to mitigate change orders.
Just prior to the school’s completion, Hagstrom learned that the assigned engineer for the public electrical service provider had left and the account hadn’t been reassigned. Hagstrom worked with AMJ Construction Management, which has close relationships with many local utility providers, to get the project reprioritized and given electrical service in time for the school to open.
Building a meaningful career
Hagstrom, who started at KIPP SoCal in July 2019, says finding partners who are flexible and dedicated to the work is key to getting charter schools built successfully.
“Our project partners understand that building charter schools in underserved communities comes with sacrifice to their bottom line,” he says. “However, these projects are often more important to them because they see the value our collective teamwork provides once a school has opened. Our design and construction partners are imperative to the success of our projects and we truly value their amazing efforts.”
Hagstrom started building charter schools in 2016 when he joined Pacific Charter School Development, a nonprofit real estate development firm based in LA. He spent over three years as a project manager in Seattle before returning to LA to join KIPP SoCal.
With a Bachelor of Arts in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, Hagstrom started his career as a project manager at Marx Okubo Associates, an architectural consulting firm in San Francisco. He later served as the director of real estate at Partner Engineering and Science, a California engineering firm, for nearly four years.
While in that role, Hagstrom completed his MBA from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He says he feels fortunate to be using his credentials and experience in such a meaningful way.
“We’re working to disrupt conventional public school education,” he says. “The design of our charter schools needs to support our educators so they can promote the success of our students.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2022 Edition here.
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