Replacement Windows Define the Newly Renovated Fiterman Hall

Many buildings that entered service before the mid-1970s are prime candidates for replacement windows. A 1959-vintage office building therefore received new windows and curtainwall during its recent conversion to academic use for The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in New York.

A window replacement of any magnitude must address a multitude of issues throughout the planning, development of specifications and installation. The process demands an objective comparison of initial versus long-term costs and adoption of methods that will ensure the quality sought from the investment.

In addition to the desired aesthetic improvement, life-cycle factors also influence window replacements in most academic buildings. Those taken into account should include potential energy savings, ease of maintenance, engineering features, solar screening and performance. These issues can be influenced significantly by local climate, operational considerations and, in the case of BMCC’s Fiterman Hall, even the context of the building. Historic structures, sometimes eligible for financial assistance, can present even more challenging factors because they are subject to extensive third-party reviews and specialty requirements.

A Project That Raised the Bar

Originally designed by Swiss architect William Lescaze, the 15-story building was donated to the college by Shirley and Miles Fiterman. Located near the financial district of Lower Manhattan, the buildingÕs physical condition and obsolescence Ñ weighed against the land value Ñ might have justified demolition and replacement under different circumstances.

That alternative was ruled out by the likelihood that NYC zoning authorities would downsize any replacement. The college urgently needed to preserve as much of the existing square footage as possible, which led to complete interior and exterior rehabilitation. Financ-ing and construction administration for the $52-million conversion came through the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) with Niles A. Miller as the DASNY project manager.

The plan created offices on the top two floors and subdivided the balance of the building into 150 classrooms, conference rooms, computer labs, student lounges, administration, a 24-hour “virtual library” and related support space. The scope of improvements also replaced the building’s electrical, mechanical and life-safety systems; the elevators; and interiors. The work proceeded in phases to permit partial use of the building.

A View of the Project

The $6.4-million replacement originated with a floor-by-floor inspection of the existing windows. Two complete assemblies removed for inspection disclosed problems with failed seals, corrosion damage, broken mechanisms and weakened anchorage. The condition, energy loss and obsolete design of the single-pane windows dictated replacement of all 1,850 steel-framed units. The building also received a two-story curtainwall.

The custom aluminum-framed replacements consist of a 3 1/4-in. deep window made up of 1/8-in. thick aluminum extrusions with a 3/8-in. thermal break between the interior and exterior surfaces. These mimic the original steel frame windows except that the replacements present horizontal bands of black- and silver-finished frames on alternating floors that enhance the building’s vertical definition. The custom system features a uniform, two-in. sightline and sloped exterior appearance to duplicate the retro look of the original windows. Added durability and performance are gained from the windows’ stainless steel hinges, white bronze handles and neoprene gasket weather-stripping with vulcanized corners.

Operable windows were preferred over fixed units to preserve access to outside air during transitional seasons or if the HVAC system becomes out of balance during temperature swings. The mechanisms have a keyed limit device that can be disengaged for housekeeping access. Some 50,000 sq. ft. of clear glass, versus tinted or coated glazing, were specified for the project. In this case, the glass preserves natural illumination within the building and, because taller, neighboring structures generally shade Fiterman Hall. The high level of night-hour occupancy also supported the glass specification.

The two-story curtainwall system had to meet comparable quality design and installation standards. Manufactured to precise width and depth structural requirements, the system incorporates an integral marquee and has a mix of vertical, butt glazed glass in straight, zigzag and elliptical lines.

Performance Testing Should Be Academic

DASNY’s Niles Miller, himself a registered architect, believes many institutions are shortsighted in prequalifying suppliers and in requiring performance testing for replacement windows. The amount of testing applied to the windows for Fiterman Hall clearly raised the bar beyond the most commonly promoted industry standards and even beyond local building code requirements, he points out.

For the New York building, redundant tests were required involving mockup assemblies at an independent laboratory in Florida and on-site tests of installed windows to ensure they met both specifications and performance goals. Representatives from both the manufacturer and the installation contractors were independently required to measure each window opening. Miller went so far as to select the windows for the mockup tests off the production line at Moduline Windows.

The lab mockups were subjected to multiple joint and corner condition tests that simulated real world conditions. A prominent Florida testing facility subjected the mock-up assemblies to air and water infiltration tests equivalent to 50 mph wind and 70 mph rainstorm forces. In addition to the infiltration tests, the operable vent was cycled 2,400 times with a 12-in. opening and 100 times at 28 1/4 in.

During the subsequent field tests, a corner window installation on an upper floor was tested using a five-sided, portable test chamber fitted with a blower and monitoring meters. Air infiltration was tested by imposing 6.24 psf, simulating 50 mph wind. The corner condition tested .01, versus a permissible .15 cfm/ft. The integrity of the water seal was confirmed at pressures that simulated eight in. of rain driven against the windows at up to 70 mph to reconfirm the lab test results.

A window replacement in a university building is always a costly and long-term proposition. The approach applied for Fiterman Hall clearly kept that axiom in mind and still went beyond the construction industry’s normally accepted protocol to produce a safe and beautiful building.

The project team included Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, New York, as architect and Barney Skanska as construction manager. Moduline Windows of Wausau, Wis., supplied the replacement windows and two-story curtainwall through Whitestone Construction Company and W & W Glass Systems.

Jim Ladesich is a Shawnee, Kan.-based writer with experience in higher education issues.