Renovate, Rebuild, Restore
- By Peter Gisolfi, Bill Harris, Kevin Havens, Amy Jones, Andy Joseph, Adele Willson
- November 1st, 2011
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
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
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
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
Kevin Havens, AIA, is senior vice president,
director of design, and Andy Joseph is senior design architect, for Wight &
Company, Darien, Ill.
21st Century Learning
30-year-old campus transformed into modern learning
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
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
“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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.