Renovate, Rebuild, Restore

Our 2011 Annual Construction Report, published this past February, showed that while overall construction fell more than $1.8 billion in 2010, spending on additions and renovation projects rose by more than $1.4 billion, which the author, Paul Abramson called, “a significant switch in construction strategy and activity.” The report also showed that projections for construction starts during 2010 put more emphasis on renovation and retrofit projects, which Abramson says could reflect an attitude by districts that they cannot get the funding needed for larger new-school projects.

While monetary realities undoubtedly drive most school construction decisions, they are not the only determining factor. Older communities cherish their historic buildings, especially the early 20th-century schools that hold special meaning to generations of graduates. Although most of these schools are architectural and cultural landmarks, they’re often in disrepair, require expensive upkeep and have limited space. School boards and district administrators face difficult questions in determining how to best serve the educational needs of 21st-century students.

Add to that the fact that our culture embraces the concept of reuse or recycling in its many forms. 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, on the following pages we present five examples of school facilities that have been restored, rebuilt or renovated.

Innovative Design Strategies

Mothers of Reinvention

Reinventing legacy schools to support modern approaches to education

By Kevin Havens, AIA, and Andy Joseph

School administrators are in a tough bind. First, their schools are showing their age. Second, they face pressures to adapt to evolving approaches to education. Lastly, given the economic climate, ground-up construction is rarely an option. Despite such obstacles, some administrators are finding that they can reinvent their legacy schools to be modern educational facilities through innovative design strategies. 

Webster Groves High School

Built in 1906, Webster Groves is an important civic landmark in suburban St. Louis that typifies the Georgian Revival architectural style. Its problematic characteristics are similar to many other schools built in the early 20th century — infrastructure issues, severe site constraints, classrooms unequipped for technology-enabled education and a community that views their school as a symbol of their values.

Five years ago, Wight & Company developed a comprehensive, phased master plan for extensive renovations that takes advantage of every square inch of the school’s limited space. For example, the old boys’ and girls’ practice gyms were demolished and replaced with a two-level structure — the first level a multipurpose room for physical education and sports training, and the second level a new competition gym, which opened three years ago.

In May, construction began on a four-story academic addition. The 106,000-square-foot project will include new classrooms, science and vocational labs, music rehearsal rooms and art studios. The exterior expression will resemble the original red brick and stone building, including its terrazzo floors and limestone accents. Due to restrictive site constraints, the auto shop will be located in the basement, with freight elevator service to transport vehicles from street level.

This addition is crucial to the sequencing of future phases because it will accommodate students during subsequent renovations. These will include major reconfiguration of the existing school’s interior, enlarging and upgrading classrooms and enclosing an existing exterior courtyard with a glass, atrium-style roof. This year-round common area will give students more impromptu opportunities for studying and working together in a pleasant, daylight-filled space where technology is always available. It also creates a connective path to improve flow between buildings.

The next phase will include rightsizing, equipping and furnishing classrooms with mobile chairs, desks and tables, so they can be quickly rearranged for different activities, such as group projects, discussions, independent study or Internet research. Other “nodes of space” will be created outside of classrooms.

Willowbrook and Addison Trail High Schools

Most high schools constructed during the building boom of the 1950s and 1960s were of the architectural style known as midcentury modern. In sharp contrast to earlier revival styles, these schools were influenced by the International Modernists movement that featured post and beam construction and flat, box-like massing with few decorative elements.

Two examples of this popular design style are Willowbrook and Addison Trail, both in District 88 in the western suburbs of Chicago. While their design appears as outdated as bell-bottoms, its underlying aesthetic — with an emphasis on spare, open spaces for optimal flexibility — is decidedly au courant and offers advantages for renovations.

In many respects, the rebuilding projects at both schools were a “reboot” of the existing architecture into alignment with current educational requirements. The vision was to reconfigure spaces in ways that not only would enhance students’ learning, but also add vitality to campus life. A key aspect of these renovations was providing common spaces for social or informal learning.

At Willowbrook, students can congregate in various places that foster interaction and informal learning opportunities. For example, “touchdown stations” are kiosks for impromptu collaboration zones that offer wireless computing and local printing stations. The student lobby space was transformed into a student lounge resembling a high-tech coffee shop with “hot spots” and large, flat-screen monitors.

At Addison Trail, the area between the lobby and cafeteria is now a two-story atrium featuring a mall of student services. Corridors were widened to create “collaboration zones” at the ends of hallways, and research nooks were put in libraries.

Classrooms at both schools were designed to take advantage of the open, flexible floor plans. Cabinetry was removed in an effort to make these spaces as clean and empty as possible. Interior design was all about selecting mobile, flexible furniture so that teachers could quickly create spaces for activities such as small group projects, remedial tutoring and even contemplative work.

Flexibility to Adapt to the Future

Although Webster Groves and the District 88 schools couldn’t be more different architecturally, the key element for all three renovations was flexibility. This applied not only to the design strategy, which had to make optimal use of space, but also to design solutions in the classrooms and elsewhere that gave students and teachers more options for learning — today and in the future. Renovating legacy schools is not about bricks and mortar, but creating learning environments that help students develop the skill sets needed for success. 

Kevin Havens, AIA, is senior vice president, director of design, and Andy Joseph is senior design architect, for Wight & Company, Darien, Ill.

Learner-Centered Instruction

21st Century Learning

30-year-old campus transformed into modern learning environment

By Amy Jones

Round Rock ISD (RRISD), a district of 45,000 students located in the cities of
Austin and Round Rock, Texas, pledges to provide learner-centered instruction that prepare students for college and careers. Recognizing that both its new and existing schools must support the technology, collaboration, research and engagement required to achieve that goal, RRISD selected O’Connell Robertson to transform 30-year-old, 350,000-square-foot Westwood High School into a 21st-century learning environment comparable to the district’s newest high school.

Westwood High School, which serves approximately 2,500 students in grades nine through 12, has repeatedly been recognized as one of the best high schools in the nation, most recently ranked #47 in Newsweek’s 2011 list of America’s Best High Schools. While the school has earned accolades for its programs, the building no longer provided appropriate space for students or teachers within the district’s learning model. The challenge was to expand core facilities, increase the number of classrooms and science labs, support the use of technology and small-group learning, establish a 9th Grade Center and increase on-campus parking within a limited, 30-acre main campus site bound by residential streets and homes.

O’Connell Robertson conducted meetings with campus and district officials, teachers and community members to fully understand the goals for the “new” campus. The resulting master plan incorporates the priorities of the district and overcomes the challenge of the land-locked site. The plan established four phases to accomplish the complete transformation, beginning with the relocation of existing tennis courts and softball fields to district-owned property across the street to free up space on the main site. Interior renovations were designed to maximize efficiencies and promote collaboration. The master plan also provides a new look and feel for the campus.

“Our district has identified traits that every graduate should have, including the ability to communicate, use technology and interact effectively with others,” says Rebecca Donald, the school’s principal. “We are making design choices that support our academic goals while also providing a more comfortable and productive environment for our students and teachers.”

Design of the first two phases began immediately, adding more than 80,000 square feet of building space and 300 new parking spots to the campus. Gathering spaces for small and large groups are incorporated throughout the building to encourage collaboration and community. A sophisticated color palette and patterns invoke a higher learning facility while also honoring the school’s strong traditions.

The most visible component of Phase I, completed in Fall 2009, was a two-story addition at the front of the school that provided a more visible campus entrance and a secure main entry adjoining administrative offices. Other components of Phase 1 included new classrooms, science labs, computer/CAD labs, softball field, tennis courts and practice fields.

Phase II is nearing completion and major components are already in use, including a new cafeteria created from the existing practice gym. A new secondary entrance leads to an atrium that opens to the cafeteria, providing a student gathering area and natural lighting. The 3,200-square-foot cafeteria addition and new kitchen increased capacity per lunch period from 570 to 785 students and expanded the number of serving lines. A stage opens to both the cafeteria and the adjacent black box theater/classroom.

The expanded library and media center, now located in the center of the school with an adjacent cyber café, form a learning commons where students can gather, connect, research and study with a variety of flexible media, technology and seating arrangements. A new classroom wing provides classroom and lab space to support the school’s Fine Arts and STEM Academies. An athletic addition provided a new practice gym, athletic support spaces and another secure entrance to the school. Existing space is now being renovated to create the new Ninth Grade Center.

Project sustainability features such as a new central plant for more efficient heating and cooling, solar panels for hot water, energy-efficient interior light fixtures, and windows and skylights for natural lighting provide energy efficiencies and an improved learning environment.

“Once the master plan is fully implemented, all of the major spaces and systems on the campus will be renovated, replaced, expanded or moved,” says Jason Andrus, AIA, project manager and O’Connell Robertson’s education director. “This is an exciting project that will reinvent Westwood High School as a 21st century learning environment and enable it to continue the school’s long history of excellence.” 

Amy Jones is a principal with O’Connell Robertson, a full-service architecture and engineering firm whose mission-driven approach creates education environments that enrich the lives of the people they were designed to serve. Ms. Jones oversees the firm’s marketing and business development efforts and serves as principal-in-charge of the Westwood High School project.

Existing Space

A Spectacular Canvas

School blossoms from former Home Depot building

By Adele Willson, AIA, LEED-AP

SkyView Academy, a PK-12 grade charter school located in Highlands Ranch, Colo., took its roots from an unlikely and seemingly challenging existing environment — a former Home Depot building. While the existing warehouse space provided its set of challenges for our design-build team, it also offered a spectacular canvas for a charter school and the opportunity to repurpose an existing building.

The vision for SkyView Academy began in 2004, when a group of parents came together to create a challenging and meaningful educational program for their children and the community at large. After numerous attempts, the board selected the former Home Depot building. SkyView Academy opened in September of 2010 to 530 eager students.

“The ability to turn a large, empty warehouse space into a PK-12 charter school is not only a great use of existing space, but a benefit to the community as well,” said Lisa Nolan with the SkyView Building Corporation. “We were able to secure the site, renovating it to fit our needs as a charter school currently serving 716 children including preschool.”

Design Concept

Early on in the process, the design concept was created through a collaborative process of meetings with SkyView board members, our team at SLATERPAULL Architects and the contractor, JHL Constructors.

Approximately half of the 110,000-square-foot building was designed to accommodate a PK-8 school with a high school as an additional component. The PK-8 portion of the building was designed in the initial phase with a large indoor athletic area used for the school’s physical education program and after school hours by community groups and other sporting teams located in the remaining half of the building. This flexible use of space supports one of SkyView’s key academic goals for responsible community involvement and service.

Learning Environment

Since the original building was not intended as an educational facility, the design phase focused on organizing classrooms based on age and creating informal gathering spaces. We varied the shapes of rooms, the application of materials and color placement throughout the school, allowing students to easily identify “special” classrooms. For instance, the art room was designed as a circular space, while the music room utilizes angled walls. The result is a playful “streetscape” that supports SkyView’s PK-8th grade Core Knowledge curriculum.

Physical Environment

Because of the building’s tall concrete walls and high structural bays, gaining access to natural light while maintaining privacy and acoustic separation was a bit challenging. The resulting design includes natural daylighting from above. Windows replaced garage doors in previous loading dock spaces and new windows were installed in the precast concrete walls to provide direct views to the outdoors. The retrofitted space mixes an intimate scale in the classrooms with lofty ceilings in the corridors. Over 150 skylights from the former facility have been retained and re-used in the school design.

We are currently working with SkyView to continuing building out the remaining 60,000 square feet of the facility, including additional site improvements. The remaining half of the building will become a two-story facility housing middle school on the lower level and high school on the upper level. Two temporary middle school classrooms have been added this year with additional grades in middle and high school being added over the next three years. The facility will accommodate approximately 1,200 students at full build-out. 

Adele Willson, AIA, LEED-AP, is a partner with SLATERPAULL Architects in Denver, Colo.

Learning, Community and Cooperation

A Sense of Belonging

Design transforms outdated 1950’s building into modern activities center

By Peter Gisolfi

Children’s Village, a residential school in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., was founded in 1851 as an orphanage. Social patterns have changed substantially, and today it is supported by New York State as a school with the prime purpose of helping children and young adults learn to be successful members of the community.

Peter Gisolfi Associates, architects and landscape architects, recently designed an expansion and transformation of a 1950’s building for the Children’s Village. The 31,000-square-foot, $10.6-million project has changed an outdated, dilapidated building, which had housed a gymnasium and defunct swimming pool, into the hub for student life on campus — the Lanza Activities Center.

The transformed building now houses a gym, competition pool, fitness center, student commons, café and multipurpose rooms. The center is served by a barbershop and commercial kitchen, teaching spaces for career training and by an outdoor terrace that overlooks a new basketball court. Vital objectives of the transformed Lanza Activities Center are learning, community and cooperation.

The underlying theme of the transformation is transparency — a transparency that encourages a sense of belonging and cooperation. There are direct lines of sight from the student commons to the swimming pool, the fitness center, the gym and to the outdoor basketball court. The student commons is overlooked by the administrative offices, which are located adjacent to the main entrance. A student can come to the center, get a haircut from a fellow student, or eat a snack prepared by a fellow student. He can watch his friends participate in athletics, or he can choose to participate in those activities himself.

The Lanza Activities Center is filled with daylight and energy. It is a venue for recreation and social interaction, providing students with opportunities to be athletes and productive members of their communities. 

Peter Gisolfi Associates is a firm of architects and landscape architects based in Hastings-On-Hudson, N.Y., with a secondary office in New Haven, Conn.

Energy Efficiency

Whole Building Approach

Students inspire high-performance building retrofits

By Bill Harris

Administrators at Southeast of Saline Unified School District (USD) 306, in Gypsum, Kan., completed building upgrades last year that are expected to reduce energy consumption by 21 percent. Students initiated the $1.4 million improvement effort, which the district expects to save more than $80,000 a year in energy and operational costs.

The project began in 2009, when a group of 10th- through 12th-grade students in a Leadership 101 class convinced the school board and district administrators that the building retrofits made good financial and environmental sense.

Southeast of Saline district leaders launched a comprehensive effort to create a high-performance school building that improves infrastructure, reduces costs and helps connect the school building to district objectives. The upgrades link the physical environment of the school to its educational objectives. This link represents a key step in the school’s journey to creating a high-performance school building.

High-performance buildings take a whole-building approach to performance while creating spaces that are reliable, safe, healthy and efficient. They meet specific standards for energy and water consumption, system reliability and uptime, environmental compliance, occupant comfort and other factors. All standards are set to deliver established outcomes that help building owners and occupants achieve their business mission.

The plan included improvements to address aging and failing infrastructure systems, increase operational efficiency, improve the learning environment and enhance comfort and security for students, teachers and staff.

Improvements were completed to the more than 151,000-square-foot building that serves all of the district’s 700-plus students. In recognition of their commitment to improved building performance, Southeast of Saline administrators and students received the Trane “Energy Efficiency Leader in Education Award” in fall 2010.

“Upgrades to the facility benefited both student learning and the environment while saving the district money,” says Dr. Justin Henry, former superintendent of Southeast of Saline USD 306. “Although we cannot measure the health, academic and environmental benefits of these improvements in monetary terms, they represent significant outcomes for this project.”

School leaders used a performance contract to pay for the improvements. This approach allows schools to use future energy and operational savings to fund infrastructure improvements. Performance contracting is part of a facilities improvement impetus advocated by the governor and the state legislature.

Before undertaking the improvements, the student leaders conducted a building survey which encouraged Southeast of Saline leaders to authorize a comprehensive building audit to identify the energy conservation measures that would best meet their needs.

Selected improvements included installing high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and a digital building control system to enhance indoor air quality, increase ventilation and improve thermal comfort.

The district provided optimal lighting by adding a performance efficient lighting system. To increase safety for students and staff, the district also added internal and external security cameras. The cameras feed into a digital recording system that is integrated with building and access controls.

The existing cooling towers were also renovated to increase thermal comfort in the building, and vestibules were installed at entryways to minimize air infiltration when outside doors are open. To conserve water, they added a variable flow device on the district’s domestic water pump.

In addition to convincing district administrators to go green, students in the Leadership 101 class have been teaching the district’s fifth-grade students about high-performance buildings. Part of the curriculum, provided by Trane, uses the students’ own building as a living classroom, comparing energy used by the building before and after improvements. 

Bill Harris is the vertical market leader responsible for Trane, a brand of Ingersoll Rand.