Restore, Renovate, or Rebuild?

As our culture embraces the concept of reuse or recycling in its many forms, it is only appropriate to focus on how some school districts have tapped the creativity of board members, architects, and/or planners to restore, renovate, or rebuild some their local structures to serve as educational spaces. Not only has this concept served them in the “green” sense by recycling the structures and adding eco-friendly components, but the projects also saved them some green in the form of lower expenditures for the amount of square footage they now use to serve their students.

These types of stories are always interesting, but this is also a subject that proves the adage “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” So, we present a few examples of school facilities that have been recycled with a short description and several photos to give you a better sense of just how useful these building have become.

Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School
District of Columbia Public Schools

Design-Build Team Transforms School in 14 Months

The halls and classrooms of the Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, located in Washington, D.C., buzz with activity. An engineering class works with the school’s solar conductors. Students clamor to train on simulators for heavy equipment. Future architects hone their skills in high-tech drafting labs. In fact, there is nothing to indicate that just two years ago, these halls were silent.

From 2002 until 2006, Phelps Vocational High School sat vacant and in disrepair. Originally constructed in 1933, the building housed traditional vocational programs for nearly 70 years. But in 2002, the historic high school closed its doors — a victim of falling enrollment and its own outmoded curriculum.

In 2006, the District of Columbia Council conceived a plan that would transform Phelps into a 21st-century high school for the architecture, construction, and engineering trades. To develop a relevant, real-world learning environment, the district worked with local trade organizations. The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Washington Architectural Foundation, and Associated General Contractors all participated in the initial planning phases.

The resulting renovation program pushed the limits of the design-build approach. This ambitious whole school modernization involved the restoration of the circa-1933 buildings and the complete transformation of an ill-advised 1970s addition — all in only 14 months.

The aggressive timeline caused the design-build team of Turner Construction, Fanning Howey, and Bryant Mitchell Architects to employ a highly collaborative, “all-hands-on-deck” approach that blurred traditional roles. Architects painted trim, sills, and details. Contractors assisted with design recommendations, saving time and adding value throughout the process.

The Phelps campus has an iconic presence with the community. Historic preservation efforts focused on the 1930s structures, restoring exterior brick, interior and exterior woodwork, interior slate, and terrazzo floors. Upgraded dentil molding and brass lettering at the main entrance reinforce the connection to the past.

The design of the renovated campus focused on the use of the building as a teaching tool. The insertion of the dramatic two-story commons — which connects the 1930s structures and 1970s addition — establishes a showcase of construction techniques for welding, drywall, flooring, and masonry. Walls constructed in a variety of masonry types and exposed building systems provide students with examples of best practices in systems and finishes.

The curriculum at Phelps anticipates the importance of sustainability in the future of the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Photovoltaic and hot water solar arrays, helical wind turbines, and a geothermal cold-water loop serve as demonstration elements. Energy monitors located throughout the school allow students to monitor energy output from the earth, sun, and wind.

"This futuristic school marks the launch of a new era of high-tech construction instruction in the District," notes Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. ”Phelps graduates can look forward to well-paying jobs that can't be outsourced and trades that can never be taken away."

Edwin R. Schmidt, AIA, owner-in-charge and principal at Fanning/Howey, has been involved in the planning, design, and delivery of educational facilities for the past 24 years. He can be reached at [email protected]

Avon Grove Charter School

Kemblesville Early Learning Center Makes Use of Abandoned School Building

The Avon Grove Charter School (AGCS) has been providing an innovative college-preparatory curriculum since 2002. Due to increased interest in the school’s alternative to traditional Pennsylvanian public school education, AGCS had outgrown their Southwest Chester County, PA, facility by 2005. They turned to Hooper Shiles Architects (HSA) for evaluation and assessment of their existing State Road Campus, as well as a comprehensive architectural programming process from which a master plan was developed to accommodate AGCS’s foreseen future growth.

In September 2007, an opportunity to reinvent what was a public school in the charter school’s image came forth and AGCS purchased Kemblesville Elementary from the Avon Grove School District. The 43,000-sq.-ft. elementary school, built in several phases in the 1950s and 60s, had been abandoned for five years and was in a state of disrepair. The structure had a constantly leaking roof, mold throughout the facility, old construction materials containing asbestos, damage associated with ongoing vandalism and graffiti, as well as a structurally unsound classroom wing. In order to meet the school’s population growth needs, Kemblesville Elementary would need to be quickly transformed into Avon Grove Charter School: Kemblesville Early Learning Center by September 2008.

The intensive schedule driving the rejuvenation of Kemblesville became paramount with design, regulatory approvals, asbestos abatement, public bidding, and renovations all occurring in just 12 months. In order to achieve AGCS's aggressive schedule, HSA worked with construction manager Quandel for an “unchartered” approach for “fast-tracking” multi-prime bid contracts.

HSA developed unique design features to renew the abandoned Kemblesville into a modern facility that reflects AGCS’ cutting-edge academic mission while respecting the school’s very tight budget. New finishes, creative space planning, and lively elements (such as the “trees of knowledge”) were designed as cost effective solutions to provide way-finding solutions and a sense of place for the young children.

Today, children in grades K-2 run the halls of AGCS’ Kemblesville Early Learning Center unaware of the massive renewal the once-blighted structure underwent just a few short months prior. The Early Learning Center not only responsibly developed an abandoned community building, but also has allowed AGCS to meet their educational mission throughout both their new facility and their existing campus.

Matthew A. Heckendorn, NCARB, AIA, is a principal with Hooper Shiles Architects and also an adjunct professor at Drexel University (Department of Architecture). He can be reached at [email protected] or 610/994-3503.

The International School

Classroom Annex an Exciting, Unusual, and Thrifty Solution to Growing Enrollment

The International School provides pre-kindergarten through fifth grade Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese language immersion educational programs for approximately 350 students in Portland, OR. The school’s founder facilitated acquisition of an early 20th-century industrial building and site adjacent to existing school facilities. In addressing the school’s immediate need for additional classroom space and very tight project budget, it became evident that renovating and redeveloping the existing industrial building on the site could be a viable option.

The original building’s most recent use as a largely unconditioned automobile body shop required a full building code change of occupancy for the structure, a seismic upgrade, new electrical and mechanical systems, a new roof, a comprehensive interior build-out, new exterior openings and window systems, along with site and public frontage improvements. In spite of this comprehensive adaptive re-use effort, economy resulted in retaining the existing building framing and exterior walls.

Ultimately, 10,241 sq.-ft. of creative learning space, including 11 classrooms and indoor activity spaces, were established in the building. The original building was constructed on a sloped site with three large industrial-style, north-facing light monitors on the roof, and an irregular array of garage doors and boarded up openings on its downhill frontage.

Today the circulation and classroom spaces are flooded with natural light from the rehabilitated light monitors and tall storefront windows at the street frontages. Classrooms are separated from circulation spaces by tall translucent panels rising above traditional partitions. The original timber framing of the building is exposed and adds character throughout. A large sliding garage door salvaged from the original building was re-used to separate kiln space from the art classroom. Expansive canopies at street level shade new windows and protect pedestrians and students waiting to be picked up at the end of the school day.

The combination of thrifty adaptive re-use design and creative day lighting techniques has turned former “grease monkey” into light-filled classrooms, provided flexibility, and helped to bridge the gap for this growing school.

Timothy R. Eddy, AIA, LEED-AP is a founding principal of Hennebery Eddy Architects, a Portland, OR-based architecture, interior design, and planning firm.

Hawthorne Elementary School

Elementary School Balances Historic Architecture, Modern Amenities, and Sustainable Features

Renovate the oldest school in the district. Maintain its historical integrity while adding 12 new state-of-the-art classrooms, and incorporate sustainable design strategies throughout the project.

Oh, and by the way, complete the project within two years without a loss of classroom time.

A formidable assignment indeed, but that’s what Wight & Company, a leading K-12 design firm, did at Hawthorne Elementary School in Elmhurst, IL. “We worked closely with the district,” says Kevin Havens, senior vice president, and director of Design of Wight & Company, “to make sure our vision of this project would be consistent with the school’s values of ‘Honoring our past…Celebrating our present… Building for our future.’”

Hawthorne, a brick and limestone school expanded several times since opening in 1920 — including the addition of a second floor — sits on a small lot with many adjacent buildings. Because of that, the only viable area for expansion was on the west side of the building. Problem was, expansion there would cover the school’s main façade, the most architecturally significant aspect of the building.

The design solution — build a narrow atrium with a skylight connecting the old and new structures, which placed the façade inside the atrium. “Like a museum, the interior of the school actually puts on display the original façade of the 1920s,” says Dane Svoboda, the project architect on the Hawthorne assignment.

“Maintaining the original façade was important to the school district and the community,” says Havens, because “Hawthorne school commands one of the primary sites overlooking Wilder Park, which is the cultural heart of Elmhurst. The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, the public library, the Elmhurst Art Museum, the park district facilities, and a botanical garden area are there.”

The project included a two-story addition (20,000 sq. ft.) for 12 classrooms and another 58,000 sq. ft. of renovations of the 90-year-old school. The project was done to not only provide more space for growing enrollment, but also to modernize the teaching environment.
Other highlights of the $12M project include:
  • adding to the classrooms technology for multi-media presentations and computers;
  • energy-saving classroom light fixtures with anti-glare diffusers to reduce eye strain and fatigue;
  • installation of energy-saving mechanical and electrical systems;
  • a kindergarten suite created on the lower level with direct access to the outdoor play lot, and a music room with direct access to the performance stage;
  • permeable brick parking lot with storm water detention below for water filtration and storm water management; and
  • drought-tolerant native landscape.

“Not only did we seek advice from the community and school district, but also from the administrative staff and teachers who live and work in the building every day,” says Havens. “We wanted to make something that would be a comfortable home for them.”

Kevin Havens is senior vice president and director if Design at Wight and Company ( in Darien, IL. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects and earned his Masters of architecture from Harvard University.