The First Green Globes Rated School in PA!

Just got word that our recently completed renovation/addition to the CE McCall Middle School in Montoursville, PA was awarded the first Green Globes Rating of any school in Pennsylvnaia. The $19.5 m building, a sustainably focused renovation of a 1968 Middle School, was awarded two globes. This alternative rating system created by the Greeb Building Initiative is similar in some ways to the the US Green Building Councils LEED system, but we have found it to be more user friendly and flexible - all the while reaching for the same goals. We have just started construction on the $41 m new Williamsport Area Middle School which has also been designed as a sustainable renovation/addition, but is using the LEED rating system instead. We are targeting a silver rating, but gold is appearing very possible. We will be comparing and contrasting our experiences with the Green Globes and LEED Rating systems over the next year.

Orlando 2012

Every have one of those days? The building in the background definitely reminds me of the state of the Architectural profession today! This building is the Ripley Believe It or Not Museum in Orlando. I had a chance to see it when down there a couple of weeks back when I was a featured speaker at the 2011 School Building Construction/American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education Winter Conference.
Looks to be a busy spring as I have been invited for a number of speaking engagements this spring at Columbia University at the end of March to the NE Council Of Educational Facilities Planners (on strategies we employed to break down the student body size at the new Reading Citadel HS), the Utah State Chapter of the American Institute of Architects Annual Conference in Salt Lake City in April (on School District Optimization Planning using GIS), and a combined meeting of the Erie Center For Design/Grow Erie Annual Dinner in May (on several of our green adaptive reuse conversion projects). Will see what interesting buildings I can find when there. I suspect in New York the most interesting building will be a non-building - the "High Line" - a conversion of a former elevated railroad viaduct on Manhattans east side into a 30 block long vegetated park in the sky!
READING EAGLE 11/29/2011 Firm earns award for Citadel school design A Reading School District construction project has been honored for its design. McKissick Associates, a Harrisburg-based architecture firm that designed the Citadel intermediate high school, was recently awarded a citation for design excellence from the American Institute of Architects' Central Pennsylvania Chapter. According to Tammie B. Fitzpatrick, a member of the AIA Central Pennsylvania board of directors, McKissick was one of five firms to be recognized this year. The citation was given because of the project's high level of design conceptualization and implementation, she said. "We're very tickled," said Vern L. McKissick, owner of McKissick Associates. "It was tough competition." The AIA Continental European Chapter judged this year's awards, Fitzpatrick said. She explained their critique of the Citadel project said it shows how good design can affect human behavior in a positive way, citing increased attendance rates at the new school. The judges also applauded the insertion of a high school into an urban area as a major benefit to the neighborhood. "This project deserves a citation award also due to the clever methods and extensive research to convert a hospital into a school," the judges wrote. "This school projects also proves that with good design, you can attempt to create social change and in this case they have been successful." Reading School Board member Keith R. Stamm said the new school has definitely helped ease problems caused by overcrowding at Reading High. He said the award shows that the district made a smart choice when picking an architect for the project. "I thought that the award was nice," he said. "It proved that McKissick was a good choice." The more than $80 million Citadel project turned the former St. Joseph Medical Center at 12th and Walnut streets into an expansive school for ninth- and 10th-grade students. It included renovations to the historic hospital as well as new construction. The project was fraught with difficulties from the onset, including cost overages and delays. The school finally opened for the start of the 2010-11 school year, more than a year late. McKissick said he hopes the recognition the project is receiving helps to mend any lingering bad feeling between the district and his firm. "It's really pleasing and I'm hoping it helps some folks with a little healing," he said of the citation. "I hope it helps show that they got something special there." Contact David Mekeel: 610-371-5014 or (Image by: Reading Eagle: Ben Hasty)

‘Super structure’ for life dedicated - | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Information - Williamsport-Sun Gazette

‘Super structure’ for life dedicated - | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Information - Williamsport-Sun Gazette Its been quite a couple of weeks for me... yet another of our green schools comes online in Montoursville, PA. Have worked with the District since 1995 when I started the design for the George Lyter Elementary School reconstruction. The article pretty much says it all - I am flattered and reassured that the community leaders are seeing the advantage of integrating sustainable energy savings design into a 40 year old (the rededication comes 5 days after the 40th aniversery of the buildings 1971 opening).

After 8 years a vision realized

In May 2003 I walked into an abandoned and condemned building in the City of Hazleton. The sole survivor of nearly a dozen historic schools closed by the District between the mid 1980's and the year 2000, this building had been placed on the list of the 10 most threatened buildings in PA. The visit was a whim on my part, I had been commissioned to undertake a master planning study of all District buildings with an eye towards construction of a new 1,000+ pupil high school.
I had been told the building was collapsing, full of asbestos and in general a dangerous wood frame building. What I found was a gentle giant, who although stripped by treasure seekers with sledge hammers at the bequest of a prior school board, was a cast in place concrete solid building which along with a creative restructuring of several other District school was as ultimately renovated into an elementary for less money and a year sooner than a new new building.
Fast forward to last Sunday when I took my seat in the new Wiltsie Performing Arts Center. Although it had been my hope to renovate the 1,200 seat balconies auditorium in 2005-2005 when the rest of the building was converted on a fast track basis into a K-8 elementary school - budgetary limitations placed on the project by the School Board did not permit this space to be included. So although the building received the top commendation from Preservation PA for its restoration, my frustration remained acute with not being able to truly complete the project.
During the ensuing year after completion of the main school building - although locked by arcane state bidding laws - I was determined to see this building completed in its full glory. I was fortunate with the assistance of the local historical society able to locate, purchase, and donate back the 8' high solid brass wall sconce lights, chandeliers, arched doors, plaster Wall medallions, and other features that were irreplaceable. Buoyed by that success, with the help of talented folks at McKissick Associates was able to generate and donate to the recently formed "Castle Auditorium Committee" all of the initial brochures, seating charts, interior rendering, and web site materials used to start the discussion process. This ultimately snowballed through the efforts of community members ending up in over $3.5 million in state, federal, and local donations needed to make this vision a reality.
So I am really looking forward to the first formal performance which will occur over Thanksgiving weekend when the classic rock group Chicago will perform. Knowing that I was the catalyst that made this all possible makes it all worthwhile. And all of this will be happening in a building that had been written off and for which I was able to bring a vision to the community.
In the end, I guess that's why I am in this profession.

They don't build them like this anymore!

No - not a trip to Greece - but found this little gem when driving the backstreets of Nashville Tennesse last month. We were down to give a presentation on our recently completed new Reading High School at the Council For Educational Facilties Planners International (CEFPI) annual conferance. Rather than being 2000 years old this building was apparently a scale reproduction sculpted in 1897 as the centerpiece of the Nashville Worlds Fair. It was a natural choice for Nashinville was known at the time as the Athens of the south. Although the original is a ruin, destroyed by the Turks in the some long last 16th century war - it is in facta faithful reproduction. Intended to be temporary as were the other structures of that world fair - all of which are long gone - it is a bit ironic that a temporary building like this has proven more lasting than newer modern structures.

World War II Fighter Ace

Finally a world war ace (at least for an hour). Recently had a chance to fly a T6-Texan built in 1943 for the Army Air Corp. This plane was later part of the Spanish Air force until the late 1990's. A belated birthday present from my wife, the Owner an engineer from NASA's Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston was in Culpepper Virgina for an air show. In addition to flying the tail dragger and logging time in my log book - we were able to fly a number of aerobatic maneuvers inverted loops, imelmans, dutch rolls, etc. utlimately pulling 3.7 G's! Made my flight home in my own plane a bit uneventful! Amazing that the aviators of the day were willing to climb into one of these and head off to face the enemy. Lucky for all of us they did.

Peer Recognition for my largest project ever

Just returned from the American Institute of Architects Design Awards Ceremony this evening - received a design citation for the new Reading Citadel High School we completed last fall. As a horribly complicated conversion of a 140 year old catholic hospital into a public school, we have never been able to tell the story of this 8 year in the making, 320,000 square foot, $78 million dollar project. Tonight - with the design jury consisting of three architects from Europe, we were apparently able to do so. I wonder perhaps if the european emphasis and sensitivity to urban commmunity design allowed them to see what suburbanized american architects are unable to. In the end, regardless of any awards from my fellow architects - this project is really about saving the City of Reading (just named by the US Census as the poorest City in American)

Me and Wright

Last week I had the unique opportunity to visit the Martin House in Buffalo New York. Designed by Frank Loyd Wright in the early 1900's it is one of the famous examples of American architecture of the period. My tour guide was the construction manager at risk whose firm is responsible for overseeing the $26,000,000 restoration/reconstruction. When completed the project will be fully modern using geothermal heating/cooling, fiber optic, LED lighting, and updated enveloped - yet it has been thoughtfully considered so that the unknowing visitor would not even have clue to the modern interventions. Standing there surrounded by piles of reproduction construction materials and tradesmen using historically accurate techniques with the walls stripped to framing -I could almost see Wright standing with a roll of drawings next to the iconic sunburst circular fireplace mantel ranting at someone about something or other. Neat!

Mount Union Community Auditorium - Done!

Before & After
Last week after a daylong series of contractor substantial completion closeout meetings at the Mt Union High School, I heard singing in the distance and decided to investigate. What I found was their new performing arts center in use for final spring concert practice. This was the first time since the project was completed in March that I had the opportunity to hear the acoustics of the hall. Although we have designed a number of performing arts venues - this one is special as it is a remake of a space constructed in 1952 and never updated - and happened in one of the poorest PA School Districts. Besides having a full digital backbone for sound/lighting/video the rebuilt space features a "continental style" seating arrangement without aisles that provides increased seating and maximizes the "good seats".

Mt Union has always been the poor relative in central PA school Districts - hearing the kids stellar vocal rendition and seeing the space this community has nothing to be ashamed of now. Mission accomplished!

What is the Future of PA Schools?

With all the recent moves by state governement to "break" Pennsylvania's educational system I wonder what the future holds. Recently I was reading an interesting report on the history of public schools published by the Pa History & Museum Commission document. Covering the period from 1682 to 1969 the report highlisghts Pennsylvanias history of being progressive with new and widespread education initiatives. It is available on line, on left side, select Historic Preservation, then School Preservation or Architecture (I forget)...under the poster for historic schools, there is a PDF to select about the context of Historic Educational Resources of PA... Rather than progressiveness the current era is focused upon funding. The solution being proposed by the state is to cut funding to local school districts (in particular rural poor districts) in an effort to force them to become more efficient. However, the issues impacting public school costs can really be tracked to health care costs, underfunded state retirements system, and unfunded mandates all of which are outside the control of the local school boards. Indeed they are within the control for the most part of the legislature. Coupled with the limitations imposed by the "slots for tots" program (the rerouting of gambling profits to reduce local property taxes) adopted in 2006 - the local boards are being forced to dismantle their educational programs. Breaking the system up is not a solution. In working with over 70 PA School Districts during the past 28 years I have yet to encounter a Board that was looking to overspend on education - in fact, most Boards (especially in the rural areas that have been specifically targeted by the current PA Goverment for specific punishment) tend to underspend. Regardless, the existing system has been self correcting - Boards that overspend in the minds of the local taxpayers are replaced in the next one or two election cycles. What will the history books say about PA education in the 2010 - 2020 decade? Increasingly it appears to be the decade where the first 300 years of progress were undone.

True Architecture

At 4:00 AM this morning my wife and I watched the BBC's broadcast of the Royal Wedding from Westminster Abbey in London. As a backdrop to such an event it was of course exquisite. I asked myself, how much of the effect was the ceremony and how much was the architecture of the space. Would it have had the same effect in prefabricated metal building with a fiberglass steeple? While it has been many years since my last visit to Westminster Abbey - I remember how humbling a it was. Upon entering I was immediately transported from the craziness of the London streets to a different place.... and time. So little of what we create today can remotely approach the impact of such a place. While we may not have 300 plus years and untold dollars at our disposal when we create architecture - I think of the advances in engineering, materials and machines available to us that medieval society did not. Yet as a society we realize our built environment in plastic covered foam (what "textured exterior insulation systems" or "dryvit" really is) and metal studs with an anticipated life span in the tens of years at most certainly not hundreds. With the next generation only experiencing quality three quality dimension space such as Westminster only through the virtual worlds of their X-Box's and PlayStation's what will our legacy be?


Had an opportunity yesterday to address a group at the Green Building Association of Central PA's annual Technical Conference at Harrisburg Area Community College. The requested topic was a case study of a green school our firm had designed. After some thought I decided to use a new High School project we designed about ten years ago. After a great beginning - it was one of the first schools in the state to be designed in accordance with LEED (before LEED was widely known) - a taxpayer revolt unseated the school board and adminsitration. The new group was not very interested in all that hippy tree hugging stuff. When a few installation and owner training issues arose - that made for a volitile mix. After 30 minutes discussing the warts and blemishes of that building with the group of about 60 folks - it was surprising how many architects/engineers cornered me afterwards admitting they have had the same problem - but never had the confidence to admit it. All in all a soul healing moment for me.

Advice to Future Architects

Architecture as a career is not an easy choice. One might even say that architecture chooses you. Like medical practice or journalism, acting or teaching, you can only excel at your craft by becoming involved with the clients and invested in the outcome.

I could quote the dreadful statistics on failed marriages and failed businesses for architects, but statistics can't be applied to all situations or all participants. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. When you choose a career, though, you do place a foundation under who you are. You may not be that person in that career forever, but it will forever form who you become. If you love architecture and you nurture it, it can change you - make you think beyond what exists now and project into what might be. Even the most cynical architect is an optimist at heart, for we hold the inherent belief that the world can be made better - perhaps even that people can be made better - by creating an environment they aspire to live up to.

I knew I wanted to be an architect at the ripe old age of 8. Or an astronaut. I grew up in a small town with gaslights running down the main street. The town square still features its fountain of "Winkin Blinkin and Nod" along with the scattered memorials of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters who, for a short time, were soldiers - protecting this haven that I grew up in so that I could be free to be either an architect or an astronaut.

Growing up in a small town, I hadn't seen a building taller than our downtown hotel. I hadn't seen any paintings by Picasso, nor had I seen any great engineering marvels like the Hoover Dam. But something about my town - my town square, the public library, the old hotel - whispered "architecture".   Beyond creating a great monument to memorialize a particular designer or fashion of the time, architecture is about anchoring people to a place and giving them a sense that they belong somewhere - that they can make not just a place in the world, but a home.

Architecture is a brave choice that will require sacrifices. The future ahead will be insecure. The people closest to you may never understand what you do or why. You will come to hard choices - between your design principles and your client's desires - sometimes between your moral principles and your security. As architects, you may be faced with these personal tests more often than others and you must choose wisely and honorably. We become better people - better designers - when circumstances force us to find the high road over the mountain.

San Diego, California (USA)

San Diego at Night

San Diego surprised me. I went with no expectations other than pictures from the nightly news. My wife wanted to go to the zoo, and frankly, I just needed a breath of fresh air in a slightly warmer climate. So, we boarded a flight to San Diego.

The first surprise was landing. The commercial 737 put down her wheels and as I gazed out the window at the city below, there it was, right next to me.  If I'd been paying closer attention, I could've waved at the guy washing dishes at his kitchen sink in his 20th floor condominium.  Talk about your downtown airports.

Why I Fly

Between the Propeller Blades

I took my first flight lesson back in 1988 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in a Piper Cherokee 140. If I'd taken that lesson sooner, who knows? Maybe I'd be an Alaskan bush pilot.

Yes, everything seems beautiful from far enough away, but that's not the whole of it.  The one person you can never get far away from is yourself, and from far enough up, there is a certain peace that comes from truly being by-oneself.  And even though I'm alone in the cockpit, I feel more a part of the world below than when I'm tromping through muddy construction sites - like an artist stepping back from a painting to get a better understanding.

Adaptive Reuse of Buildings for Public Education

      Reading Hospital, Aerial Photo Before Construction
    Reading Hospital, Before Construction
    Reading Hospital, Aerial Photo After Demolition
    Reading Hospital Site, After Demolition
    Reading Hospital Site, Model of Future High School
    Model of Future High School

In recent times, we have become accustomed to equating new with better.  In building design, particularly educational facilities, the perception of technology and mechanical systems as an overwhelming challenge often discourages building facility leadership from investigating the adaptation of existing structures as potential schools.

While older buildings are often characterized as more imperfect than new construction, the quality of their materials and underlying structure is often far superior to modern building materials and methods. With the rising costs of both materials and labor and the decreasing pool of skilled craftsmen in the building trades, existing structures can provide a very credible alternative for school facilities.  Additionally, they often allow a head start on the construction process as much of the planned facility is on an existing foundation and already under-roof.

There are primary objectives in educational facility design that are inviolate: educational flexibility, durability of materials and the long-term operations mission. Of a school district’s total annual educational budget, building costs including operations, maintenance and debt service typically amount to less than 10% of the annual budget and in most cases, to less than 5%.  When focusing on a fiscally conservative budget directive, keep in mind that investments in the building program which reduce energy costs, staffing demands and maintenance or replacement of finishes over time will far outweigh any savings made in construction costs.

An adaptive reuse project addresses not only the improvement of educational facilities, but the redevelopment of deteriorating resources within a community.  In Reading, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s vacated their 140 year-old hospital and its 6 block campus in the city.  Even though the site required extensive environmental remediation and many of the structures required full or partial demolition, the school district was able to convert the hospital facility into a high school for almost $30 million less than the cost of constructing a new school.  With construction halfway completed, the much-needed, 3000 student facility will be open for the 2009/2010 school year.

  • When considering adaptive reuse for educational projects, there are several strategies that can help you stay focused on your goals for a facility’s aesthetic attributes, educational components, budget and construction schedule:
  • when addressing a minimal budget, focus on limiting the project scope through efficient design; it is better to reduce the scope of the project than limiting future flexibility or compromising the quality of construction
  • set a reasonable timeline for the project and work with your design team and identify scenarios which might possibly be discovered and their potential solutions ahead of time
  • plan for what features you’d like to restore ideally, but be aware of areas of compromise in renovation scope so that you have options for reducing project costs after construction has begun
  • be prepared for issues to arise and have an internal strategy and process for responding to your design team quickly during the construction process
  • assign a generous contingency fund up front and plan to use it

Well chosen, an existing structure will more than compensate for any challenges that you may have to address.  Through adaptive reuse, your educational facility has the opportunity to become a learning tool itself – illustrating its role in history, demonstrating old style craftsmanship and detailing, and imparting awareness and appreciation for all of the various types of structures that make up the fabric of a community.

Montserrat Monastery (Montserrat, Spain)

Montserrat Monastery In one of the more disturbing mountain formations outside Barcelona, a group of monks decided to found a monastery. Their seeming insanity is eclipsed only by the beauty and power of the area. If there exists a place on this earth that is close to God, figuratively and literally, Montserrat is quite possibly it.

Satellite View   
Satellite View  

In the satellite pictures to the left, the monastery church is the dark oval near the center. The shadows of the mountains are this big as seen from space. The picture above shows the rocks towering above the church. On the top satellite picture, you will note that these are the little rocks in the clusters directly adjacent to the complex in the lower photo. The really big rocks (like those to the far left of the complex in the upper satellite photo) are incomprehensible.

The Catalonia Region of Spain (Barcelona, Montserrat)

For her 40th birthday, I took my wife to Spain. We flew to Barcelona where I expected not to understand anyone and to be afraid to drink the water. The surprise was on me as Barcelona turns out to be a very cosmopolitan city. It's closest American equivalent might be San Francisco based on the arts, diversity and cultural refinement, though it many ways it was more "proper" than our California coast.

The most surprising about the region is the scope of radically differing terrain. The Mediterranean coast was dotted with regular "beach towns" of villas and tourist meccas, but only turn away from the coast headed north and you're facing flat-topped volcanic plateaus. Pass those and you're winding on roads that frighten billy-goats. Out of the mountains and into the flatlands through fields of blooming poppies and peppered with unhurried cows, the hills begin to roll once again, each topped with a town grown out of the shape of the hillsides. Further down the same highway, mountains of rock tower above with their enormous rounded fingers clawing to escape the earth itself.

N152 Map

To begin with, there is a road innocently named "N152". The first image is this road the way that map-makers see it. Winding and wandering comfortably through lovely villages alongside a nice little railroad.

N152 Satellite

Here is N152 as God sees it. The winding little road clings to the knife edge of a mountain and occasionally tosses rocks at the nice little railroad which is an alarming distance below. That the billy goats are terrified may perhaps be an exaggeration - but they certainly looked nervous.

The D-Day Beaches of Normandy, France

D-Day Beaches

Standing on this hallowed ground more than 40 years after the D-Day landing, I felt the collective spirit of all the soldiers and their adversaries who gave their lives for a cause they believed in.  I have never been so affected or humbled by a place before or since.

The day we arrived was foggy and salt air blanketed the banks like a protective guard - like a stern librarian who holds a finger to her lips to remind the careless that precious things are concealed within and those that visit must be given their due peace in which to consider them earnestly.

The Florence Cathedral (Florence, Italy)

Florence Cathedral

Though immense in its engineering accomplishments, standing within these grand halls causes one to marvel not at the human contribution, but the divine inspiration.  There are some places of worship that put one in mind of the perils of humanity and strike fear in the hearts of those who would stray from the paths of righteousness, but this cathedral is not one of them.  In contrast, its facade of green and white invite the passer by to look a little closer at the details and entice them to come into this joyful place which can only have been created in celebration of a greater, more generous power than humanity can wield.