New Lease on Life

Much attention has been focused on the amount and type of new construction taking place at the nation's schools and universities. But one area — the modernization and repair of existing buildings — often does not get the same fanfare as new facilities. Yet it should.

Approximately $15.6 billion was spent last year by school districts and colleges on modernization and retrofit projects, accounting for 38 percent of all education construction spending in 2001. This is a significant amount of money, and there is no shortage of the number of buildings still in need of major repair and upgrade.

This issue of American School & University focuses on upgrade and retrofit strategies that education institutions can adopt or adapt based on their individual facilities needs. Whether you are looking to enhance physical security, repair roofs, upgrade lighting or improve other aspects of your facilities, the information in the following pages can help as you embark on your construction program.

Many institutions are addressing their facilities-repair needs, with the majority raising funding for construction programs via traditional outlets, such as floating a bond issue. Others are taking less typical routes to secure needed funding.

One example is Buffalo, N.Y., public schools. Last month, the district made official details of its plan to spend nearly $1 billion on building renovations. While a massive program, which will rehabilitate roughly 80 schools and construct as many as six new buildings over 10 years, the most novel aspect of the initiative is how it will be financed — a private, nonprofit entity will own the rehabilitated and newly constructed schools, leasing them back to the district.

The arrangement will allow Buffalo to address its school facilities needs without straining the city's debt limit. In addition, the majority of the burden will be on the project team selected to manage the program. Headed by local firm Ciminelli Construction, the team will be responsible for everything from financing, budgeting, strategic planning and general oversight, to neighborhood revitalization in areas where schools are being repaired or built.

Buffalo's innovative renovation program no doubt will influence future school construction funding and project management at other public education institutions, especially in communities that find it difficult to raise needed funds via more traditional means.


IN A RECENT ISSUE of American School & University's weekly e-newsletter, SchoolHouse Beat, readers were asked their opinion on renovating vs. replacing school facilities, and the answers reflect how emotional the issue is. Among the many responses:

  • “The decision to tear down sound, existing school buildings is too often the result of a lack of creative thinking on the part of architects, engineers and school district facilities personnel.”

  • “The uniqueness of older structures presents wonderful opportunities for creative design solutions and interesting, memorable spaces.”

  • “Oftentimes, renovations don't give you the same functionality or remaining useful life as building a new building. It's amazing, though, how polarized communities are becoming over this issue.”

  • “Existing schools, especially those built before 1940, are integral parts of the neighborhoods they serve. Modern budgets do not allow the quality of construction and architectural expression that are part of pre-war school buildings.”

To subscribe to SchoolHouse Beat, AS&U's free weekly update of education facilities and business news, visit and link to the SchoolHouse Beat offer under the Site Features section on the lefthand side of the Home page.

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