Before coming to work at the Boulder Valley School District, as the executive director of Bond Planning & Construction, BVSD left quite an impression on Kris Stoppenhagen.
“Boulder Valley School District was really my favorite client,” Stoppenhagen said.
As a project manager with RLH Engineering, Stoppenhagen worked with a lot of local school districts including Jeffco Public Schools, Eaton School District, Weld RE-4 in Windsor and Thompson School District.
Through different projects, BVSD always stood out to him.
“It was just the communication, responsiveness and the dedication to what I call ‘doing the right thing,’” Stoppenhagen said.
“When you go to bed at night, you have to ask yourself – through all the politics, through everything you're trying to do, through the decisions you're making and the money that you're managing – are you doing the right thing? My impression was always that BVSD was always trying to do the right thing,” he added.
During school hours his focus was on bond construction projects. After school, he’d conduct environmental testing.
“It felt like I was in two positions there for the last five years,” Stoppenhagen said. “I'd have a seven-to-five kind of gig and then I'd be running down to Jeffco or down here to Boulder at night and getting into one or two schools.”
It was exhausting.
So, it didn’t take too much arm-twisting for BVSD Bond Project Manager Gene Temanson to encourage him to apply to work at the district. He started last March and has been loving every minute since.
“I just feel like I've been training for this my whole life,” Stoppenhagen said. “Everything that I’ve done in my career has rounded me out and prepared me for this work. Sure, there are stressful days, there are challenging days, and there are long days. Any job is going to be like that, but I’m getting to do what I love most.”
While voters approved the current bond project a year ago, he says they are already wrapping up phase one and are planning for phase two and beyond.
“We've got construction going on for a couple of different projects,” Stoppenhagen said.
“We're thinking ahead to phase three already a year from now.”
Each bond stretches over several years, so a big part of Stoppenhagen’s job is looking ahead and ensuring that everything is on track.
“We have a lot of buckets to manage and milestones to hit,” Stoppenhgen said. “On a typical morning, I try to get here early and start diving into budgets and stuff and do those reviews.”
While the team does everything it can to predict possible challenges, from time-to-time new obstacles do arise. Thankfully, the bond team always sets money aside to help cover a surprise or two, but as you might guess it can get stressful.
“Mostly I try to stay cool and collected, but, certainly, I lose sleep occasionally,” Stoppenhagen admitted. “There's little things that come up. You aim to keep things predictable and preventable, by keeping an eye on what you know can go off the rails.”
For instance, while it would be nice to splurge here and there, he ensures that project budgets don’t creep too much.
“On one of our packages we are working on right now, civil engineers got excited about some stuff and over-designed, so we had to dial it back in,” Stoppenhagen explained. “Even if it would be great for the school, not everything was a necessity.”
“We get to know each project holistically and then make decisions based on our original promise, ensuring that the funds satisfy that,” Stoppenhagen added. “We've also got to make sure the money lasts over a few years, so that it is there when it is time to work on the later schools.”
One of his favorite parts is when all the work on paper and in spreadsheets, begins to take shape.
”It is really cool,” Stoppenhagen admitted. “You've been looking at something two-dimensional for so long. Now the foundation is in and the walls are going up at New Vista. Recently we were walking around the site and you could see where the entrance is and where commons is going to be. We were able to get a preview of the views that they're going to have from the auditorium. Eventually they’ll be able to look out all that glass up to the Flatirons. That's one of my favorite moments.”
While Stoppenhagen admits that the new construction is exciting, he also takes great pride in the district’s work to address issues in our aging facilities with bond dollars.
“When I think of the older facilities, it takes me back to being a farm kid and the awe I had watching my dad and my uncles reinforce our barns,” Stoppenhagen said, who was born and raised in a small farming town in Indiana. “I know what it meant for our livelihood – to have shelter to store tractors, cattle and the corn that we got to play hide and seek in.”
Similarly, his team is committed to protecting the investment our community has made in the district, ensuring that BVSD’s buildings continue to serve students well, as long as possible.
“Our goal is to add to the experience that the user has every day, through better air quality, increased comfort, and improved temperature control. These are things they shouldn’t have to think about, but make the environment they learn in better,” Stoppenhagen said.
After getting to see the impact projects can have on kids, Stoppenhagen found himself working on more and more school projects.
“My favorite story is when the first elementary school that was super old, we renovated and had flooding issues. It would flood every year, because the grade was horrible. It didn't have good drainage, so they'd have to sandbag the doors and the walls.”
His firm put in a new drainage system, diverting the water away from the school and putting an end to the flooding and clearing the way for a new playground.
“We got to go back and talk to them about the work that we did. We presented to the first and second graders, walking them through the whole process,” Stoppenhagen remembered. “I started by asking who likes a new playground? Two or three classes of kids jumped up. They were so excited.”
“That’s what enamors me with those projects. The students and staff really appreciate it,” Stoppenhagen added. “Sometimes they are major transformations and sometimes they are little things that they may not notice, but every project helps to create a better environment.”
Getting to Know Kris
Here are a few more details, so you can get to know our Executive Director of Bond Planning & Construction.
A proud powderhound
Kris has an adventurous spirit and, when it comes to skiing, he says that he likes it as steep and as deep as he can get.
After finishing high school, Kris surprised his parents when he informed them that he was going to put off college a while to explore the powder on the slopes of the Grand Tetons.
“I was ready to go to college and then told my parents that I was going to take some time to go ski in Jackson Hole. They were not thrilled. They said ‘no.’ I said, ‘I'm going anyway.’ They said, ‘well, not much we can do,’” Kris recalled.
His favorite ski spot, however, is in Idaho.
“My favorite place is Sun Valley, just because I know the mountains so well,” Kris said.
Here in Colorado, he enjoys spending time in Telluride and Steamboat, but says there is something special about Arapahoe Basin.
“I have a real love for A Basin,” Kris said. “It's my kind of people, my kind of mountain community and skiing.”
At your own risk
While Kris has no doubt had more than his share of dream-like bluebird days, he’s also faced some nightmare skiing situations, like the time that he got trapped, upside down in a tree well.
“It was close to the end of the day, so it was almost dark,” Kris remembered. “I was just skiing and caught something underneath the snow that flipped me upside down. I was actually suspended upside down in a tree well.”
“I was able to kind of get a pocket for air and my skis were basically keeping me from falling deeper,” he added.
He also narrowly escaped an avalanche while in the backcountry up at Diamond Peak, near Cameron Pass.
“Somebody triggered the slide above us and my dog was a champ,” Kris said. “I told her to go. She was so used to being in the backcountry with me that she just took off and we both rode it out. I was able to grab her as I was skiing out of the bottom of it.”
Take only memories, leave only footprints
Kris’ favorite place is the outdoors and that is just as true in the summertime.
In fact, during his time in Idaho, Kris would spend every moment before and after work outside.
“I still worked every day, but every night it was hiking or biking because it really wouldn’t get dark until 9 o’clock at night. On the weekends, I do combinations of all that. So I saw all the Sawtooth Range,” Kris recalled.
All summer long he lived in a tent.
“I did that because I've always had a love for the outdoors,” Kris said. “Without getting into too much detail, I still had places to shower. There were waterfalls all over where I lived from snow runoff streams and eco-friendly soap and shampoo took care of it.”
With the drive and diligence needed to keep all of the Boulder Valley School District’s bond projects on time and budget, it may be hard to believe that Kris once operated on “Island Time.”
“I bought a one way ticket to the Caribbean and I went to St. Croix,” Kris shared. “My goal was to get on a boat, sail and to learn how to build a boat.”
He was hired as a deckhand on a ship that was going to sail up to Boston, but ultimately decided that six months at sea was a bit too long to be away.
“I ended up missing my family and my dog,” Kris said.
If you’ve ever dreamed about living in the Caribbean, he suggests reading the book "Don’t Stop the Carnival" by Herman Wouk.
“It is one of my favorite books,” Kris said. “It's about changing our everyday expectations.”
He says it has helped him to find balance, even while navigating the pressures in the bond office.