Facility Planning: Radical Renovation

July 1, 2016
A radical redesign can rejuvenate and refocus a school facility without interrupting operation.

Many large U.S. high schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s to accommodate rapid increases in student enrollment. Over the years, these facilities have taken on numerous additions. Simultaneously, a school district also may have constructed new high schools in developing neighborhoods. The result is a district with a new high school in one area and one or more older high schools that don’t comport with new standards and amenities. In districts where growth has not occurred, a single high school may be limping along with substandard facilities.  

These facilities are ripe for “radical renovation,” a large-scale redesign and reorganization of an existing building’s function and circulation while students continue to occupy the building. The redesign considers future needs while working within the constraints of an existing building. For radical renovation to be successful, it is vital to incorporate critical design criteria, understand financial ramifications and benefits, establish clear and concise communication with stakeholders, and address sequencing.

Critical design criteria vary for each radical renovation. The catalyst may be enrollment fluctuations, grade reconfiguration, identity rebranding, correcting poor circulation, creating open gathering areas, achieving equity with neighboring schools, addressing inadequate and outdated spaces and systems, improving space utilization, or generally improving function. Typically, a radical renovation is precipitated by a combination of these issues. 

Understanding financial ramifications is paramount. Acknowledge that demolition will occur, which costs money and doesn’t necessarily add more space. Ask the all-important questions: “Is it worth the cost to renovate, considering the extent of demolition?” and, “Are we addressing critical design criteria?”

Gain input from users, community members, and stakeholders to establish objectives for the school’s master plan. This provides the opportunity for all to explore options at the conceptual stage. If a design solution is a radical improvement that addresses long-term issues, stakeholders typically see that value.

The solution supported by stakeholders may involve consolidating numerous single-story additions into a compact multistory building. Or it may involve converting narrow interior hallways and outdated instructional space into open gathering areas in the center of a facility, flanked by technology hubs and socializing areas in a “main street” concept. Another might build a new school “over” the old, demolishing portions as new additions are constructed and retaining good areas.

A radical renovation may involve years of construction because much of the work will be done while students occupy the building. Therefore, sequencing in planning and construction is essential. Sequencing is not a construction phase; it is a planning/design stage when architects and educators determine how construction phasing should occur while students occupy the facility. It should cover specific activities, start/stop aspects, and target dates (e.g., for demolition, construction start/completion, systems shift-over). Sequencing plans specify building occupancies, abandonment, and circulation routing for students, staff and the community during construction. It is the plan of how to accomplish radical renovation while maintaining all essential learning programs and extracurricular activities. 

Radical renovation is an opportunity to give a school building 21st-century learning and social spaces, up-to-date materials and finishes, state-of-the-art automated systems, and just-in-time technology while preserving the facility’s historical and nostalgic significance.

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