Irvine Unified School District Opens Portola High School

By Jessie Fetterling

IRVINE, Calif. — Irvine Unified School District’s (USD) recently completed Portola High School opened in time for the 2016-17 school year this past August. While the project not only met the school district’s fast-paced scheduling needs, it also meets criteria developed by High Performance Index Schools, created to improve student success by providing high-performance learning environments.

The $126 million high school was built to accommodate up to 2,400 students on a 43-acre site made up of 16 campus buildings, three parking lots, an aquatics facility, football stadium, varsity softball and baseball fields as well as other outdoor field facilities. Locally based C.W. Driver Companies built the facility, while Los Angeles-based HMC Architects served as the architect.

The $126 million Portola High School was built to accommodate up to 2,400 students on a 43-acre site. Photo Credit: Kyle Miller/Irvine USD

On the inside, the Portola High School campus includes high-tech classrooms; a student union featuring collaborative learning environments and common areas; a Learning Commons with a media center that has quiet rooms and an “innovation lab;” an elective building that houses cutting-edge technologies and resources designed to inspire creativity and collaboration; video production, art and music rooms; dedicated science labs; special education facilities; a 2,044-seat gymnasium, locker room and classroom building; and a performing arts building with a 698-seat theater, black box theater, orchestra pit and second level balcony and dance studio.

“Twenty-first century learning is all about developing transformational collaboration and technical skills,” said Mac Byers, senior project manager with C.W. Driver. “Portola High School is designed to allow collaborative spaces for students as well as teachers. The campus is full of areas for kids to gather and work together.”

The Student Union and Student Learning buildings are constructed with this in mind. Teachers are not assigned a classroom like in traditional schools but instead have common workspaces. They then teach out of classrooms designed specifically for group learning with no particular front or head-of-the-class focus. Students learn in innovation labs, and Wi-Fi is available throughout the campus with multiple access points.

The main challenge of the Portola High School project was its fast construction schedule, according to Byers. That involved completing the 16-building campus in 20 months for the August 2016 opening.

“We addressed the challenge by essentially dividing a high school project into four elementary school-sized projects, running them all concurrently,” Byers said. “We achieved buy-in from all parties and experienced a high degree of coordination and preplanning with all parties with close schedule monitoring.  The team quickly and efficiently addressed challenges and never lost sight of the objective.”

Teamwork and team synergy can be a challenge on projects of this size, Byers continued. “With upwards of $7 million dollars of labor, materials and equipment being expended every month there is plenty of opportunity for teamwork to break down — not on this project,” Byers said. “The team stayed focused on the issues, addressed them with cool heads and continually persevered through to get the best possible solutions.”

Subcontractor cash flow is critical on a project that requires a large labor force on a project like this, and subcontractors typically can experience drains in cash flow of $1 million to $2 million between work and payment, according to Byers. “C.W. Driver and Irvine USD made a commitment to process monthly billings and change orders quickly to minimize that impact on subcontractors,” he added. “This effort on behalf of the subcontractors was met with a high degree of subcontractor cooperation on myriad issues.”




Jessie Fetterling

Jessie is the managing editor at Emlen Media. She can be contacted at

jessie has 43 posts and counting.See all posts by jessie