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.

No comments: