Facility Planning: School Renewals

June 1, 2008
1950s-'60s schools: Obsolescence or longevity?

Forty-three percent of existing public schools were built in the 1950s-'60s era. This era seems to have gained the reputation of cheap, energy-inefficient buildings that were not intended to last more than 30 years.

A study at one school district estimated it would cost $2.1 billion to fix its aging buildings. Many buildings were well-kept and clean, but their mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems were old and inefficient; the food-service equipment needed replacing; and the facilities did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most of the buildings are only 30 to 50 years old and are showing signs of water damage, and wear and tear.

Experience has proven that public schools must be designed for long-term use — much longer than 30 years.

Many institutions keep up with most of their annual facility maintenance, but not with replacing major systems and equipment because annual budgets cannot cover the costs. Avoiding such dilemmas requires planning, scheduling and budgeting for the eventual upgrades.

But don't lump all of the '50s-'60s schools in the same category. Although some schools were built cheaply, many others have high-quality materials, systems and construction using life-cycle costing and value-engineering techniques. They were built to last and were energy-efficient for their day. Many of these schools have been or will be updated more economically than replacing them.

Many of these schools were designed with materials and systems that have proven adaptable to the educational changes that have occurred since the 1950s and 1960s.

With proper maintenance and updates, these schools are serviceable buildings with an extended useful life of more than 30 years. Spending $50 to $75 per square foot for upgrades may be more reasonable than constructing a new building that may cost more than $200 per square foot.

Schools will continue to be built and expected to last forever in the taxpayer's mind. Planned obsolescence in 30 years is a tough sell to the community.

If your school or university is building a new facility, enhance its longevity with:

  • Functional space flexibility and adaptability to future educational changes.

  • Construction drawings with detailing that creates ease of accessibility and maintenance.

  • Construction specifications that clearly delineate the quality of construction.

  • Durable materials and finishes.

  • Life-cycle costing and value-engineering techniques to select materials, equipment and systems.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

About the Author

James Rydeen | Architect/Facility Planning Specialist

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis.

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