Saint Gertrude High School

by Drew Faulconer
Southern Air Richmond Mechanical Construction Manager

For nearly a century, Saint Gertrude High School, Virginia’s only all-girls Catholic preparatory day school, thrived in Richmond’s Museum District. After sharing a building with Benedictine College Preparatory, Saint Gertrude is preparing to have its own new 51,000-square-foot building, while paying homage to its original home. The school’s internal design team began planning in 2020, aiming to have all students under their own roof by the 2023-2024 academic year.

Founded by the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia in 1922, Saint Gertrude’s new building preserves the Spanish Revival architecture of the original structure. With a grand tower adorned with a visible cross, rounded arches, and a red tile roof, the three-story building echoes the school’s heritage. The relocation includes the original 1922 altar, Stations of the Cross, and stained glass and rose windows akin to the original chapel overlooking the James River.

The Great Hall will serve as a gathering space for all students, where they will pray, celebrate achievements, and coordinate daily events. The hall boasts thirty-foot-tall windows, a stone fireplace, comfortable seating, and even a student café. Additionally, students will have a dedicated dining hall, a feature the old school lacked.

General Contractor Taylor and Parrish Construction awarded Southern Air with the mechanical and plumbing scopes of work. The planning and specification job included the mechanical design for the project revolving around packaged Rooftop Units (RTUs) with Variable Air Volume (VAV) distribution. To provide heating capabilities, the VAVs were equipped with electric heat. On the plumbing side, the design included bathrooms, a small prep kitchen, safety fixtures for science labs, a domestic water booster pump, and a domestic hot water system.

Southern Air utilized Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology to coordinate conflicts, resulting in a nearly issue-free construction process. Recognizing the strength of Southern Air’s BIM capabilities, Taylor and Parrish Construction entrusted Southern Air with the lead role in managing BIM and coordinating with all other subcontractors. Southern Air Design Detailer Kendall Tinnell took on this responsibility and excelled, demonstrating exceptional skill in resolving conflicts proactively, even before construction commenced.

The project was greatly influenced by architectural requirements, which called for unique solutions. One such example was the installation of underground Blue Duct, a creative solution that efficiently provided supply air to the Great Hall, the focal point of the building. Duct work is typically found above of a room, however buildings like churches, museums or Saint Gertrude’s, boast floor-to-ceiling glass walls and architectural ceilings. One of the most popular ways to overcome space constraints for duct work is going underground, taking advantage of space typically unused. These innovative approaches showcased Southern Air’s ability to adapt and provide tailored solutions to meet project specifications.

“Working on the Saint Gertrude job was an educating and rewarding experience,” says Tinnell. “Having never seen this application before and reading through submittal documents and additional information online, I was able to become more familiar with underground blue duct and help assist the design team. The wood architecture features located within the ‘Great Room’ would have been overshadowed with the industry standard sheet metal and would have taken up a lot of space overhead. With the blue duct design, they were able to take the duct underground, under slab and have registers located in the floor to supply air to the space.”

Throughout the project, Southern Air’s team delivered one of the most professional and clean executions of work witnessed in the industry. Our attention to detail and commitment to cleanliness on the job site were commendable. Both Taylor and Parrish and Saint Gertrude expressed high praise for Southern Air’s performance, acknowledging the company as an exceptional entity within the industry. Our Southern Air teams received countless expressions of gratitude for their proactive approach to conflict resolution before construction even began. Their expertise and dedication helped ensure a smooth construction process, earning the appreciation of all stakeholders involved.

“Southern Air did an outstanding job at Saint Gertrude,” says Matt Owen, Taylor & Parrish Construction superintendent. “They acted with professionalism and precision while executing their scope of work. They communicated well and worked with everyone as a team as it should be. I look forward to working with Drew Faulconer and his Southern Air team on the next project.”

The St. Gertrude High School project exemplified Southern Air’s excellence in executing mechanical and plumbing installations. The project involved a team of dedicated Southern Air professionals, including Plumbing Foreman Jake Riddle, Sheet Metal Foreman Rick Taylor, and Commissioning Foreman John Weedon, who played crucial roles in ensuring the success of their respective areas. The team’s proficient utilization of BIM, their ability to navigate architectural requirements, and their commitment to professionalism and cleanliness were praised by both Taylor and Parrish and the Saint Gertrude staff. Southern Air proved to be an exception in the industry, setting a high standard for quality and performance.

Come the fall of this year, students will enjoy a beautiful, state-of-the-art school prominently visible from Richmond’s Veterans Bridge sitting high above the James River Valley. This gorgeous project is one our Southern Air tradespeople proudly walk away from with our heads held high for a job well done. We cannot thank or praise our teams enough for their hard work, dedication and commitment building this modern all-girls Catholic school while preserving its extraordinary history.