New Construction, Renovation, & Consolidation: Opportunities in K-12 Design

School systems around the country are constantly navigating an ever-changing educational landscape. In addition to implementing curricula and meeting the academic, emotional, and physical needs of a diverse and rapidly growing population of students, school systems must accommodate changing demographics, shifting class sizes, evolving pedagogies, increased technology requirements, trends in flexibility, and increased security. All of these elements have hastened the need to modernize campuses throughout the US.

When faced with change at this scale, school systems must navigate the complexities of both short-and long-range planning for facilities. Many systems struggle with aging facilities that are nearing obsolescence, and the decision to build a new school or renovate an existing facility can be a challenging one. In determining the best path forward, we as architects use eight simple questions in guiding clients through the decision-making process. When we evaluate an existing school facility, we ask: is the building secure? Is it practical? Is it meaningful? Is it strong enough? Does it leak? Does it still suit its purpose? Is it cost effective? And, above all, is it safe for the people who will use it?

In answering these questions, the key to understanding the viability of a building is a property condition assessment performed by a professional.  Property condition assessments may be prepared by architects, general contractors, or independent testing agencies, and engaging a third-party entity helps to maintain a neutrality and objectivity in evaluating facilities. The assessment process includes in-depth documentation and analysis of the site and general property, structure, exterior components, interior components, roofing, elevator systems, plumbing systems, mechanical systems, electrical systems, environmental impact, life safety considerations, fire alarm systems, fire suppression systems, etc.

The professional conducting the assessment will pay close attention to the condition of interior finishes, roofing conditions, and any existing or potential locations of water or air infiltration (such as in the floor slab, basement, or walls). Codes, including Life Safety / International Code compliance, ADA compliance, and National Energy Code requirements, will be noted as well, along with the condition of fire protection (fire alarm and sprinkler) systems. The report will include an assessment of additional safety considerations such as security vulnerabilities or hazardous materials. The analysis should also include the age and condition of data/AV infrastructure and its ability to support evolving technologies which might be required.

The resulting report will typically include recommendations for remediation of any noted deficiencies, in some cases including rough cost estimates for potential work. Armed with this data, school systems and architects are well prepared to collaborate on design solutions which will best support the budget, program goals, and student population, whether these involve demolition and new construction or targeted renovations. For example, if security issues are noted, a solution may be to create a single point of entry; this intervention might require strategic design interventions at targeted building locations. If facilities issues include problems that are prohibitively expensive to repair such as substantial structural or envelope deficiencies, demolition and new construction may prove to be a more economical option in the long run.

A property condition report is a good way to value-assess a building by analyzing quantitative characteristics.  However, qualitative aspects can be less tangible.  For example, how does one evaluate a building’s meaningfulness?  Architects are adept at orchestrating public input meetings to understand what is meaningful to the community.  This public input method is especially effective when districts find that school consolidation is necessary.  For many people, ideas like identity, tradition, history, and values manifest themselves in the “bricks and mortar.”  Abandoning / demolishing an entire campus can strike a nerve, so understanding the community is key to building consensus.

Architects are skilled at programming, planning, and phasing design and construction to address the client’s short-term goals and long-term visions. The first step in designing a plan to accommodate a school system’s facilities needs is a deep-dive into existing facilities, anticipated needs, and community values. Armed with a detailed property condition assessment, the team is empowered to make data-driven decisions and establish a clear path forward that will best accommodate the facilities needs of the system today and well into the future.

About Jaime

Jaime  Henderson brings  a  dedication  for  design  excellence  to  each  project  with which he is involved. With over ten years of professional experience, he has worked on a variety of project types including institutional, corporate, municipal, sports, recreational, residential, religious, medical, and judicial. Extensive travel abroad has given him a distinct set of skills that he shares with the design team. Working in the harsh climate of Phoenix, Arizona has also given him an understanding of environmentally responsive design.

Jaime’s passion for design excellence from conception to construction is evident in his award winning projects. He is currently working on the Clemson University Tennis Center and the Clemson School of Business.

Jaime  spends  his  free  time working around his nine acre hobby farm in Fletcher, NC. He currently takes care of two dogs, two cats, two miniature donkeys, two goats, three pigs, and  thirty chickens. He also works on international design competitions  with  colleagues  and  friends, including  a  memorial  in Virginia and an exhibition pavilion in Russia.