Brian Meyers, LEED AP BD+C, leads the HMC PreK-12 practice, one of California’s largest and most successful. He has spent 20 years specializing in PreK–12 planning and design, partnering with clients across the state to deliver future-focused learning environments and facilities. His educational planning style focuses on consensus building, facilitating community partnerships, and leading stakeholders toward successful project outcomes on time and within budget. Brian’s leadership is instrumental in developing educational specifications, programming, planning, and award-winning architectural design.
Q: Describe your educational background and how you got into architecture.
A: Like many people in our industry, I grew up with a passion for building things and for playing with Lego, so I guess it started there. I was fortunate enough to get into the architecture program at Penn State University and after graduation started my career at a large national firm in the Midwest. I could have landed in any one of a variety of studios, but I happened to land in a studio specializing in education. My career has been engaged and specialized in educational design from the beginning, nearly 30 years ago.
I have always been a curious person and love talking to people, learning and listening. In addition to the technical rigors of architecture, we are all people working together in various groups to deliver great projects.
I was always drawn to the people side of the business. I joined HMC in 2007, starting in a senior project management role. I worked my way up to principal in 2015 and then practice leader in 2019.
Q: Describe your current role at HMC and the hats you wear as PreK-12 Practice Leader.
A: I view my role as trying to find ways to support our clients throughout each of the six studios: Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Ontario, and San Diego, each of which has significant books of work in the PreK-12 practice. I work closely with the principals and lead the strategic direction of the practice to find opportunities to differentiate ourselves and our services.
Being one of the largest PreK-12 design firms in the state allows us to invest a little differently and provide services that other firms can’t, like school advisors (funding and entitlement specialty) and DSA closeout specialists. These differentiating factors will guide us as we move forward. We view ourselves as strategic partners with our clients. So, to that end, I provide leadership and guidance to our teams to help everybody become better advisors to our clients through the complex delivery of PreK-12 educational facilities through the state school building program. I also still enjoy the work of architecture and design. I continue to work with clients, administrators, teachers and communities throughout the design and construction process to deliver great projects.
Q: What are some major projects of which you’re most proud and that our clients might want to know about?
A: A shining star in my portfolio is one of the smallest ones: the John Morse Therapeutic Center (JMTC) Modernization for Sacramento City Unified in 2014. This was a modest $2.5 million modernization of an existing K-8 school which supports students diagnosed with severe emotional disturbances. The modernization was to address student safety and security and improve learning outcomes with an intensive program using small class sizes, individual behavioral support plans, and focused collaboration with community service providers to address students’ individual learning and emotional needs. This project is why I believe design matters. Teachers and administrators would spend more time dealing with escalating behaviors, including writing police reports for kids who would “escape” the campus throughout the day – sadly a common occurrence.
We were tasked with designing a facility that could work educationally, programmatically, and physically to keep the kids on campus. We converted an old dining commons into a relaxation and reset room where kids could go to cool off, to get out of the environment that they’re in. This space was essential to reduce anxiety and lessen the impacts of other students’ escalating behaviors. The highlight of the project is the community garden, created to support the therapeutic learning environment. When the garden first opened, students could only gain access to it when they demonstrated exemplary behaviors, a true motivation for the students at JMTC. That policy has changed since the opening and now the garden is used for more therapeutic purposes in addition to
classroom projects. According to Principal Susan Higgins, “Students are allowed to work in the garden or take a ‘sensory diet’ break to get their wiggles out. A tenminute break often provides an hour of good work.”
The story of the success at Morse was not the fact that we kept kids confined but that the kids didn’t want to leave. It was because of the programmatic and design changes, because of the spaces we created to support the whole child that made a difference and potentially changed the trajectory of students for years to come.
Q: What are your passions outside of architecture?
A: I have a supportive family, and my wife Amanda is a huge reason I can do what I do—her support and our relationship are essential for me to succeed in my work. We love to golf and my whole family is obsessed with sports, primarily the Sacramento Kings and the Kansas City Chiefs.
My son, Chris, plays college soccer on one of the top-ranked teams in the country, and I love to watch him play. That’s a passion of mine. I am a family-driven person. I believe in balancing my work in my life, I love spending time with my kids, helping them, and watching them grow.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing our PreK-12 clients and how can we help?
A: The pandemic has changed the landscape of everything we do, pushing us into a realm of uncertainty. We’ve seen it hit us in our projects with supply chain issues and delays and a myriad of other building industry challenges that have an effect on the bottom line and the cost of projects. Managing that has been especially difficult.
But I think the bigger societal issues are the impact of the pandemic on the social and emotional well-being of our kids and trying to serve them after they’ve lost some really big years. My daughter Kalia missed out on her entire middle school years. What is the impact of that on these tremendous growing years? Kids were going through kindergarten online—the first school experience for many of our children was in front of a computer screen. How is this going to ripple through the landscape? There are tremendous stresses and challenges on the facility and educational sides as teachers try to find ways to support kids.
As architects and planners, we are leaning into this and trying to understand the impacts and how we can support the whole child through the design of spaces. Mental and physical wellness are at the forefront and the real challenge facing us as we move into the future.
And then, from a structural standpoint, adding a grade level to the state of California with the transitional kindergarten mandate will tax our clients significantly. We are helping them to solve that and find additional capacity.
There’s certainly a lot on the plates of our clients but having creative partners like HMC to help guide and support them through some of these challenges is crucial. I’m up for the challenges, and so is HMC!