#IWD, ED&I, EmbraceEquity, Equity Diversity & Inclusion, International Women's Day, IWD 2023 Projects, IWD2023, Women's History Month

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8 we are sharing how we #EmbraceEquity not only in the workplace but in our work. Get an inside look at how our teams are embracing equity through their projects and positively impacting the lives of women as well as underserved communities around the world.

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Rarely does a professional project align so well with one’s passion quite like it did for me during the modernization of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, Texas. The opportunity to lead this project amplified my passion for empowering young women to pursue STEM careers.

Founded in 2007 on the vision of Governor Ann Richards, the mission of the school is “to prepare young women to attend and graduate from college, commit to a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle, lead with courage and compassion, and solve problems creatively and ethically in support of our global community.” Comprised of students equally committed to this mission and changing their community and the world one day, the school is advancing education and empowering women from all backgrounds, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, by providing the skills and confidence they need to succeed in college, career and life. This public, all-girls college preparatory school serves grades 6 through 12 and is open to all qualified students in Austin Independent School District (AISD). With a proud 100 percent graduation rate, the U.S. News & World Report ranks the Ann Richards School at #20 in the state of Texas and #128 nationally. Children at Risk ranked the Ann Richards School at #2 in the Greater Austin High School Rankings and #33 in the state of Texas.

A proud partnership and vision

AECOM partnered with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) as the program manager to successfully deliver their $1.05 billion 2017 Bond Program to modernize the urban learning experience. The new Ann Richards School, a 184,000-square-foot facility, features modernized, collaborative and flexible spaces including outdoor classrooms, state-of-the-art STEAM classrooms, a two-story library (with a slide), new fine and performing arts spaces, and new athletics facilities. My personal favorite is the makerspace where girls get hands on experience with laser cutters, 3D printers and power tools to create amazing projects like furniture, musical instruments and robots.

Ann Richards School students are on a journey to becoming lifelong leaders not only in the classroom but also through extracurriculars like sports, fine arts and leadership programs. Keeping these multi-faceted student aspirations in mind was key to developing and showcasing this sense of community and advancement of women in leadership.

Strong leadership approach for strong leaders

This project was initially planned to be the first phase of a multi-phase modernization of the existing campus, originally built as a middle school. With strategic permitting, alternative delivery, value engineering, and collaboration under AECOM’s management, the project team provided a full campus replacement increasing student capacity by 20 percent and providing brand new efficient and sustainable mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, modern security, and a full-size competition-level track and field facility.

Several project challenges arose that our management approach successfully overcame, including a program-wide strategy to present to the City of Austin Historic Preservation Committee. We also coordinated student transport to offsite locations for athletics and extracurriculars during construction.

All contributors to this project, especially the women, were proud to be part of such an important and transformative school for the school district and the Austin community. Women were involved in nearly every aspect of the project including the project managers, construction managers, architects, engineers, sheet metal fabricators, painters, cleaners, and local artists. For students to observe firsthand the strong women involved at every stage of this project was especially meaningful and rewarding.

Achievements and recognition

Ann Richards School has been recognized with several awards including the Austin Business Journal’s 2022 Community Impact Award, the 2022 Austin Association of General Contractors Outstanding Construction Award, and two 2022 awards by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA): 2022 Project Achievement Award in Education, and the 2022 National Project of the Year Award. The building is also LEED Silver Certified and received a 3-star Austin Energy Green Building rating.

We are proud to have contributed to such a meaningful project with AISD, uplifting communities and prioritizing the needs of future women leaders.

Jaime Miller

Originally published Mar 6, 2023

Author: Jaime Miller

Jaime Miller is a program director in AECOM’s U.S. West region.