The Big Fix

July 1, 2005
In an effort to provide students and staff the facilities they need, schools and universities are renovating and adding on to thousands of buildings.

New or used? Asked in that simple way, most people would answer “new.” New is fresh and modern, full of possibilities. Used evokes images of something tired, worn out, past its prime.

But “used” can have appealing qualities. A used building, lived in and comfortable, may possess a character and charm not found in a sterile, new building. A used building that proudly wears its age can convey a sense of tradition and history absorbed over generations. A used building is already in place and functioning, and renovating and expanding it can be less expensive than constructing a comparable replacement.

So, although construction of new education facilities is booming at schools and universities throughout the United States, administrators realize that renovating existing buildings often is the most prudent path for providing the facilities needed on their campuses.

Renovating the nation's schoolhouses is big business. American School & University's 31st annual Official Education Construction Report found that schools and universities spent more than $20.6 billion in 2004 on facility modernizations and additions — about the same as they spent on new construction.

Renovations can encompass a vast range of projects, from minor upgrades that spruce up a building's appearance to massive overhauls that gut the interior of a facility and provide it with a new appearance and function.

Repair or replace?

The factors that go into determining whether a facility needs renovations are as varied as the campuses and communities in which it exists.

The most obvious rationale for renovating a building is its age and condition. A facility becomes weathered and worn as years of use accumulate — especially if routine maintenance is neglected. The underlying building structure may be sound, but upgrades are necessary to provide a proper environment for learning, working or living.

When the renovation needs are too extensive, it may be more cost-effective for a school to replace a facility. Measures such as the Facilities Condition Index (FCI), defined as the amount of deferred maintenance divided by the current replacement value for a building, can help school facilities managers determine whether renovation or replacement is more cost-effective.

The changing needs and wants of students and others involved in education require schools and universities to offer facilities different from those considered adequate in the past. On many college campuses, the desires of on-campus residents for more amenities and home-like comforts have prompted numerous renovations. The University of South Florida renovated one of its residence halls so that it could accommodate both men and women. It installed kitchen and lounge spaces that weren't included when the building was opened more than 40 years ago. (see “Freshman community” sidebar, p. 20.)

In some cases, a renovation enables a school to correct design inadequacies that have existed for years or that have developed as building additions have altered the facility. At Carver High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., officials were dissatisfied with the building's circulation and security because the main entrance was not on the same level as the school's administrative area. (see “Preserving tradition” sidebar, p. 16 .) A renovation created a new entrance that provided better flow and enhanced security.

Renovation also may be necessary when an institution has changed its curriculum and programs, or the needs of students and teachers have evolved and the facility no longer serves its clientele effectively. Keene State College in Keene, N.H., overhauled its science center to give students and faculty access to modern technology and provide space more conducive to hands-on learning instead of the lecture-based instruction that was the standard when the center was built in the 1960s. (see “Seeing the value in science” sidebar, p. 15.)

Sometimes, renovation occurs when a preservation-minded community rises up to save an older building. In San Jose, Calif., community residents mobilized to preserve an outdated middle school facility. The neighbors took the district to court and the resulting ruling put the district on a path to restore the facility, which is now used by both the district and the community. (see “Saved from the wrecker's ball” sidebar, p. 18.)

Some schools use a renovation to give an older facility a renewed purpose. At Roanoke College in Virginia, Trout Hall has served many purposes since it was built in the 1860s: It has been a chapel, a language laboratory, a chaplain's office and a counseling center. In its latest incarnation, Trout Hall has been renovated and expanded to house the sociology department. The $1.2 million renovation has resulted in a facility with 10 offices, three classrooms, two seminar rooms, a library and a student/faculty lounge.

Safety issues

Some renovation projects are the response to an urgent health or safety issue. Loyola University in New Orleans is renovating a residence hall only a few years after it opened because of mold growth. The school is spending about $10 million to correct the building flaws that have allowed moisture to seep into the walls and create conditions for dangerous mold growth. The school is performing the renovation floor by floor and relocating residents while workers make the repairs.

Without proper precautions, a renovation can cause more problems than it corrects. The Natural Resources Defense Council notes that a renovation carried out improperly can release dust and chemicals and cause illness.

The Council's “Green Squad” recommends that schools follow these steps when renovating:

  • Use products that emit few or no volatile organic compounds.

  • Investigate green building practices.

  • Make sure contractors have developed a safe and healthy renovation plan.

  • Notify students and parents before renovations start, and explain how students' health will be protected.

  • Schedule renovations for times when class is not in session, and keep students away from work areas.

  • Prevent the spread of dust and fumes with heavy plastic sheeting, temporary walls or some other barrier.

  • Ventilate the renovation area well and allow time for fumes and chemicals to disperse.

  • Clean the renovated space thoroughly before it is used again.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

Seeing the value in science

At Keene State College, Keene, N.H., officials wanted their science facilities to reflect their ambitious goals for the school. But the science building was constructed in the 1960s and did not have the types of space required for a modern science program that emphasizes laboratory work and hands-on instruction rather than lectures.

“We wanted more hands-on learning and smaller spaces,” says Gordon Leversee, dean of the School of Science and Social Science at Keene.

So, for a cost of about $23 million, the college renovated the 55,000 square feet of space in the building and added 38,000 square feet of new space.

“The design enhances interaction,” says Leversee. “We are trying to build a community among eight different science disciplines.”

The facility has several conversation alcoves where students and faculty can have informal conversations. A glass curtainwall facade allows passersby to see what is going on inside the various laboratories and classrooms. That visibility has had at least one effect the college had sought — interest in science classes is up.

“We have had students who have seen the building and say, ‘This is a place I want to be,’” says Leversee. “For our general chemistry class, we are 30 percent up in enrollment.”

To improve the circulation in the building, the school demolished two lecture halls that were too large and therefore underused. The lecture halls also had the effect of “hiding” the rest of the building from the campus.

“The old building was pretty invisible,” says Leversee. “Now it has become a visible and central part of the campus.”

The building was C-shaped, and the addition “crosses the C,” which creates a courtyard. The courtyard has more than 100 species of plants to enhance botany studies, and several multi-ton boulders and stone pathways are examples of the area' s geological landscape.

The facility also features a distance-education classroom equipped to send (or receive) lectures and materials all around the world. It also has improved energy efficiency with automatic lighting controls and new airflow hoods for laboratories.

To meet an aggressive construction timeline, Keene officials decided to move everybody out of the science building in May 2003. Most of the science faculty and classes were housed temporarily in portable classrooms and laboratories.

“If we tried to stay in the old building while the work was going on, it would have taken three years,” says Leversee. “This schedule allowed us to stay on the academic calendar cycle. If we had gone into the 2004-05 year, that would have been a big problem for us.”

The shorter construction schedule also helped save the school $300,000 to $400,000 in costs, says Leversee.

Preserving tradition

The building that houses Carver High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., was constructed more than 50 years ago with the help of funds raised by the African-American community it served.

“It was one of the only new high schools built for the African-American community,” says architect Ed Bouldin. “It has sentimental value for a lot of the community.”

That history, as well as the fact that the facility was a well-built structure, led the Winston-Salem Forsyth County district to reinvest in the building and embark on an $8.2 million renovation project.

“We did 150,000 square feet of renovation, and we built an addition to house drama, band and art,” says Bouldin.

The existing school facility was built in 1950 for $1.5 million and served 1,300 students in grades 1 to 12. Fifty years later, the school had become a four-year high school for grades 9 to 12, but it needed extensive upgrades to be able to meet the needs of today's students.

The most noticeable change to the school building is the redesigned front entrance and lobby area.

“The administration and guidance areas were not on the same level as the front entry,” says Bouldin, “so we built a two-story front entry and lobby, and changed the circulation patterns. We put in a circular drive and a flagpole. It gives the building a new, uplifting kind of feeling.”

Other improvements include an elevator and ramping to make the building more accessible, and window replacements throughout the building, including clerestory windows to bring more light into the building.

“We made the building lighter,” says Bouldin. “Using more lighting makes it appear to be brand new.”

The school's auditorium was updated with acoustical treatments, new lighting and modern audiovisual equipment. Lounge areas were added to the school's long corridors. A courtyard was added next to the existing cafeteria that allows students to eat outdoors. A stair tower was added to the school that rises above the 50-yard line of the school's football field. The school's wiring was upgraded to accommodate more computers, and the school also has a new media center with a computer lab.

The renovations were completed last fall, and the improvements have given a new energy to the 55-year-old facility, says Bouldin.

“It has a nicer feeling to it,” says Bouldin. “It's just bright and clean and fresh-looking.”

Saved from the wrecker's ball

In 1995, the San Jose (Calif.) district didn't want to keep the old part of Hoover Middle School that was known as Historic Hoover School. But 10 years later, the district proudly uses the renovated structure for middle school classes; the city's parks department uses a wing of the building for community education; and both the school and the community point with special pride to the Historic Hoover Theatre that occupies another wing.

The relationship between the school district and community had become strained in the 1990s over plans for the building. The “Historic Hoover” facility was built in the 1930s, designed by William H. Weeks, an architect who worked on many schools in California. The school had not been used as a student attendance center since the 1970s because it did not meet state seismic codes and could not be inhabited by students. The San Jose Unified School District had decided to tear it down and sell the land.

“The neighborhood said, ‘No, you're not,’” says Ernie Yamane, senior vice president with Steinberg Architects.

The city declared the building a landmark, and residents of the community, known as Rose Garden, sued the school district in 1995 to prevent demolition. A year later, a judge sided with the community and ruled that the school district had not followed state regulations in preparing to sell the site.

So the district had a structure that it couldn't tear down, but it couldn't use the facility for students unless it could come up with renovation funds.

“The district didn't have two nickels to rub together” for a renovation, says Yamane. “It had no funds to rejuvenate it or make it seismically safe, only to tear it down.”

The district also had to come to common ground with a community that it had just opposed in a lawsuit.

“It's hard to go to litigation and then have to sit down and reach a happy medium with the neighborhood,” says Yamane.

Yamane says the district initially found funds to renovate the old building by deciding to use it as temporary classroom space while other district buildings were being renovated. That allowed officials to use bond money that had been set aside for modular classrooms to begin renovations at Hoover.

Subsequently, funds from the city of San Jose and private donations helped foot the bill from renovations.

In addition to classrooms, the old Hoover building has a wing that the city uses for parks and recreation programs and as a community center. To renovate another wing of the building for the arts, the school district won approval of a bond issue that included funds for a 200-seat theater that opened last fall. Both the school and the community are using the theater.

“The only physical addition is dressing rooms that are attached to the stage,” says Yamane. “Those also allowed us to create a courtyard space.”

The renovations have cost about $6.5 million in private and public funds, and school officials and community leaders are still hoping to make more improvements to the facility.

“The windows need repair, and the roof needs more work,” says Yamane.

Freshman community

Even after the University of South Florida in Tampa renovated Beta Hall, the facility maintained many of the characteristics of an older-style residence hall. Most notably, students who need to use the bathroom must leave their rooms to use community facilities down the hall.

Other student housing on the campus offered apartment-style living or suite arrangements, but school officials believe the community living arrangement is beneficial for the freshman students who make up Beta's population.

“This is a better situation for freshmen to get acclimated to college life,” says Kelly Best, assistant director of residence services for facilities at the university. “In an apartment setting, students are not forced to go out of their rooms. They slip in and out to go to class, and they don't get involved. In a more traditional hall, you are introduced to other people and develop a sense of community.”

The $8.3 million renovation was completed in the fall of 2004.

Even though Beta is a traditional residence hall, the university had to make some accommodations to provide amenities not available before renovation. It sacrificed student capacity in Beta to provide other spaces.

Built in the early 1960s, the residence hall housed about 400 male students. The five-story building was divided into two living units per floor. The renovation added community bathrooms for women so that Beta could become a co-ed facility. A living room was added to each living unit, and a kitchen was installed on each floor. The capacity of the renovated residence hall is 295.

“We took out some more rooms for a lounge on the second floor, and we made the lobby larger and more inviting,” says Best. “We re-did the exterior. People would barely recognize the building. The University of South Florida buildings originally all were white brick cubes — very unimaginative to many people's tastes. We've gone with some red brick and stucco, earth tones, terra cotta — more South Florida colors and Southwest colors.”

Although the upgrades needed were extensive, the school opted to renovate rather than rebuild because the building's structure was still sound.

“These are extremely sturdy structures,” Best says of Beta Hall and some of the other buildings constructed in the university's early years. “They were built with basements that were designed as bomb shelters.”

A building constructed in the 1960s might not be historical at a lot of universities, but classes didn't begin at the University of South Florida until 1960. So renovating Beta allows the school to acknowledge its roots and help establish a tradition at the still-young school.

“It's important to preserve our history,” says Best.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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