Ready to Renovate

Ready to Renovate

Schools need to plan and prioritize when taking on renovation projects.

With remedial programs, enrichment offerings, recreational activities and extended-year schedules, many school facilities are no longer dormant in the summer months. On college campuses, the summertime pace might be more leisurely, but plenty of students and staff fill the same roles they have the rest of the academic year.

The increased year-round use of education facilities benefits students and enables schools and universities to use their buildings more efficiently, but it has made it more difficult for workers to carry out needed renovation and maintenance projects on a campus. A school that is unable to fit a renovation project into a summer recess may have to find temporary space to house a program while work is being completed; if a school needs to continue using part of a facility while work is taking place, administrators need to take steps to ensure that the appropriate safety precautions are in place to protect students and staff members whose classes or jobs take them in or near a construction zone.

The shrinking summer construction season on school and university campuses is one reason that administrators must plan their renovation projects carefully. In addition, a comprehensive renovation plan will help schools identify their most pressing needs, establish timelines for carrying them out, and ensure that the projects stay within the available budget.

Campus inventory

Before administrators can determine where their renovation and maintenance gaps are, they must have a clear understanding of what they have on their campuses. This is especially important information on campuses that have a significant backlog of maintenance and renovation needs, says Michael Gautney, director of facilities, administration and planning at the University of North Alabama in Florence.

“What any facilities manager needs to do,” says Gautney, “is first get a list of everything you have on your campus — all the buildings, what their age is, how old the furniture is; how old the equipment is; how long since you have painted; how long since you have replaced the carpet. Then you determine the work that needs to be done and assign a dollar value to all of it.”

A comprehensive list of needs enables facility managers to decide more objectively which renovation projects to pursue, Gautney says. Without data to reinforce their decisions, administrators might acquiesce to the demands of the squeakiest wheels or those with the most clout on campus.

“Now we have a database that can project 10 years out, factor in inflation, and tell us what the cost will be if we wait 10 years,” says Gautney. “We can have a forecast of what we'd like to accomplish.”

One of the major renovation projects in 2007 was a $1.3 million overhaul of Rogers Alumni House. Replacing the facility was not an option — the mansion was built in 1855 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was donated to the university in 1948. Gautney says that because of the designation, the university had to be meticulous about carrying out the renovation and the types of material used. The building now has new steel skeletal structuring, new floor joists and a new air-circulation system. It houses offices for the university's foundation, alumni relations, publications and university relations staff. The main floor is designed to accommodate receptions and entertaining.

The university spent $2 million last year on renovations and has allocated $3 million this year, says Gautney.

If a school or university can create a work zone that does not lead to safety problems for students or other employees, a renovation project can take place while parts of a facility remain in use. In other cases, the work is too disruptive or dangerous and would not be safe for those not involved in the actual renovation, so schools have to temporarily shut down space and relocate campus functions.

“We have done both,” says Gautney.

At Willingham Hall, a building constructed in 1939, the renovations required were extensive enough that relocation was the best option. The $1.4 million renovation is nearly completed. The facility, which houses the English, history and political science departments, initially had been a residence hall.

“We have moved everybody completely out,” says Gautney. “We are installing a new central heating and cooling system, replacing single-pane windows with double panes, doing a lot of re-painting and installing new carpets.”

The university also gutted basement space that had been unused since the 1950s and created 16 additional faculty offices, says Gautney.

This summer, North Alabama also is replacing the grass on an athletic practice field with artificial turf, and upgrading one of its residence halls.

“We try to plan around the summer the best we can,” says Gautney. “But some of our projects are 12 months or longer, so it's not always possible.”

What comes first

Except for the rare education institution that has sufficient resources to meet all its facility needs, administrators will have to make hard choices about which renovation projects get done now and which ones have to go on the back burner. In developing a plan to address renovation and maintenance needs, schools and universities must decide which work is most critical.

In 2007, the Palo Alto (Calif.) Unified District put together a facility master plan that spelled out eight priorities for determining the importance of needed improvements. (Its previous master plan was completed in the 1990s and reconfigured in 2000.)

The new master plan establishes the top priority as health and life safety; the other priorities, in order of importance, are compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; building-shell integrity; classroom interior upgrades and infrastructure; program support upgrades and infrastructure; athletic facilities; site development and landscaping; and expansion of facilities.

The 350-page plan used the eight priorities as a basis for spelling out in detail the scope of renovations needed in the 10,800-student district. Palo Alto administrators identified more than $770 million in renovation and expansion needs over the next 20 years. In determining the scope of a bond issue to pay for the project and the availability of contractors to perform the work, district administrators concluded that it could handle $40 to $45 million of new construction and modernization work per year.

“Factors that contribute to this determination include limitations on school site access, placing interim facilities on campuses, the number of bidders in the community and limits on district resources to support the construction program,” the master plan says.

The plan prompted the district to schedule a $378 million bond election, and voters approved the measure last month.

Among the projects to be covered by the bond funds: replacing modular classrooms with permanent structures; upgrading climate-control systems; improving building security systems; seismic and ADA upgrades; and replacing furniture, computers and other equipment on an ongoing basis.

Many in the district had criticized previous capital-improvement efforts for failing to address the replacement of furniture and equipment.

“Many criticisms … involved the lack of new furnishings and equipment being provided,” the master plan states. “[S]taff and faculty were stuck with old desks, chairs, projectors, computers and other equipment that was not on par with the standards of today. A significant investment in this area is necessary not only for the accelerating rate in technological advances, but for the lack of investment made during the past several years.”

Sidebar: Fixer-upper?

For some schools and universities, indecision over whether to renovate an existing facility or construct a new building can stall progress.

The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), which allocates construction and renovation funds to local districts, has put together a brochure examining the “renovate or build new” question. It includes a list of questions that administrators should consider before deciding which path to take:

  • Does the building have historical significance?

  • Do the costs of rehabilitating the facility outweigh the costs of building new?

  • Can the facility be renovated to accommodate 21st-century instructional delivery practices and modern technologies?

  • Are there parts of the building that should be retained? Are there sections that should be replaced?

  • Is the facility properly sized for the school population of today and of the future?

  • Is the building well-lighted, spacious and comfortable?

  • Will the facility be operationally efficient?

  • Does the environment impart a feeling of safety and well-being?

“One of the most important decisions a school district must make when participating in an OSFC project is whether to renovate an existing facility or replace it with a new school,” the commission states. “There are costs and benefits to either choice, and the community must weigh all of these factors in their decision. Although it is recommended that a building be replaced should it be very costly to renovate, OSFC recognizes that a school facility could have historical value or may serve a special function in a community. Should the district and the community choose to retain their current buildings rather than construct a new school, OSFC may approve renovations and expansions that cost up to the full amount of a replacement facility.”

The brochure is at www.osfc.state.oh.us/pdfs/Brochures/Renovate.pdf.

Kennedy is staff writer for AS&U.

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