Friday, June 21, 2013

Historic Renovations, Part 3

Prior to launching into a full scale renovation or restoration of your school building you should evaluate the condition of the building. A full structural review should be performed by a licensed engineer to determine if the building has any deficiencies that should be addressed. You might notice that a floor is sloping or has soft spots when you walk over a certain area. This may be the result of the foundation moving, termite damage, or the result of water damage. Wood roof trusses have a tendency to sag over time, if your roof has a low slope or is flat (which was common construction practices in the early 1900's), the roof could be ponding water. Over time as the roof continues to sag as the ponding becomes more pronounced, the roof structure could collapse under the weight of the water. I have seen this condition occur,  thankfully the roof did not collapse while school was in session, it occurred over a weekend.

The walls should be examined as well. The majority of the older buildings were constructed using the walls as 'load bearing'. This means the walls directly support the roof structure. Often times the walls can shift due to foundations moving. If the walls are leaning out of plane, this is a dangerous situation and must be corrected. Typically the exterior walls are load bearing as well as each side of the corridors. Caution must be taken when opening or cutting into these walls are desired to expand rooms or reconfigure spaces. Small openings for standard doors is usually not difficult to accomplish, each opening will require the head, or top of the opening, to be structurally reinforced.

All systems in the building should be evaluated including the electrical, mechanical, plumbing, roofing, and building envelope (walls, windows, etc). The cost of repairing/replacing these systems have a major impact on the project cost and should be carefully evaluated. A general rule of thumb is that if the cost of renovating exceeds 50% of the cost of a new building, you should consider building new. This of course does not take into account the historical value of the building to the community. This could far out weigh the cost implications.

Michael D. King AIA

Friday, June 7, 2013

Historic Renovations, Walls Part 2

Most older schools were built using brick for the exterior facades. As this material weathers over the years the face of the brick can become soiled with mold and mildew or stained as years of exposure to the elements leave deposits of dirt and dust.

When cleaning the exterior brick, previous common practice was to use a sand blasting method. This has proven to do more damage than good as the force of the sand on the brick could actually remove the facing of the brick itself and also damage the mortar joints. Current cleaning methods involve the use of solvents and low pressure water systems. It is imperative that the operator of the water spray unit have the nozzle set on a fan spray and not to apply the water in a stream. This will insure that the brick will be cleaned, but not damaged.

The exterior brick façade could also have deteriorated mortar joints. The joints at brick window sills are especially susceptible to weather as water can stand on the horizontal face of the brick and go through freezing and thaw cycles. The most common repair method is to remove the mortar between the brick to a depth of at least 1 inch and replace the mortar with new. This method is called "repointing the joints". If the mortar is significantly deteriorated, the entire building may need to be repointed.

Windows are the other major item in the building envelope wall façade. The majority of the existing windows will be either wood or steel materials. If the building has a historical plaque and is on the states historical register, the state historical commission will most likely want to see that the windows are replaced with a like material for continuity of the historical value of the building. The wood trim around the windows will need to be evaluated as to the amount of deterioration. If the wood is in favorable condition it is possible that it can be cleaned and repainted, if not, it should be replaced. If repainting the wood trim, be sure not to use scrapers or other tools that could damage the wood. This also includes no sand blasting to remove old paint. This method can severely damage older wood trim. There are chemical processes that can be used to remove the old paint and thereby not damaging the existing wood trim.

Diligent pre-planning can result in restoring an older school to its original splendor and not unknowingly or unnecessarily damage the wall systems in the process.

Michael D. King AIA

Friday, May 17, 2013

Historic Renovation/Restoration

As the title suggests, we are going to discuss the differences between historic renovations of your school building vs historic restoration. This discussion will also center on some do's and don'ts concerning renovations of this type. 

The first decision to make regarding your historic school building is whether or not you want to provide a restoration or a renovation of the building. This can make a huge impact on the type of work that is done and the cost of the work. If I choose to restore an older building the implication is that the work to be accomplished will bring the building back to its original condition. For example, drop in ceilings may have been installed below the original stamped metal ceiling or carpet installed over the original wood flooring. Restoring would bring these finishes back to their original condition or replaced with new finishes that match the original. 
If I choose to renovate the building, I am not so concerned with what the original finishes would have been. I am simply upgrading the components of the building to bring them into new condition. 

Consideration must be given if the building is registered with your state's historical commission or is on the national historic register. If this is the case, then the historical commission has jurisdiction over the work to restore and or renovate the building. Each state will have different rules and regulations concerning what can be done. In the state of Texas, the historical commission does not have input on the interior work, they are not concerned with what goes on inside the building but are very opinionated on what goes on with the exterior of the building. For example, if the windows are scheduled to be replaced then you are required to go back with a window that is of the same style and material to match the original. I had a client that wanted to install an aluminum window in place of the original wood windows (for several reasons of cost, durability, energy efficiency etc) and the historical commission denied the request stating that the windows must be wood to match the existing. Realize that this is only for buildings that are on the historic register. Just because a school building is old does not mean that it is automatically on the historic register. You must go through a process to place your school building on the register. 

The historic commission will want to see evidence of what the original building materials were prior to approving the restoration of any of the components. Samples of the roofing shingles, photographs of the original building, original handrails are just a few examples of components that can prove to be helpful in the restoration process. 

Michael D. King AIA

Friday, April 26, 2013

Site Selection - Final

We have discussed many aspects of site selection for school campuses, this is the final installment.

A major consideration in selecting the proper site for your school campus is the surrounding roads and highways. How will your students and staff get to the campus? In too many instances I have seen schools built with only one street access. I realize that this may be the only land available and the only road with access to your site, but you must consider the implications that this will have to your campus. The safety and security of students and parents as they enter and exit the campus is of the utmost importance. 

If the access is to a state highway, the State Highway Dept will have jurisdiction about where and how many access points you will be allowed to the road. If you believe that because of traffic safety reasons there should be a stop light at the entrance/exits to the campus, typically the Highway Dept will require a traffic study to be done, (at your cost) to prove that the light is necessary. In Texas, the cost of the traffic light is the responsibility of the school. This may not be the case in other states. Negotiations and planning with the Highway Dept is not a fast process. Plan enough time ahead so that this phase of the project does not delay the design and construction of your school.

We always recommend having at least two access points to your site as a minimum. This will assist in spreading out the traffic load and being able to separate the bus traffic from the parents. Multiple pick up and drop off points and having the bus traffic separated are key elements in having a safe site. Plan the drop offs to be long enough that cars are not standing on the street right of way. 

The trend in the last 10 to 15 years has been that small neighborhood schools are being consolidated into larger campuses. Students no longer walk to school, even if they are only a few blocks away. Parents are driving their students to school or they are riding the bus. Not many students walk or ride bikes as in my day. I say all that to help us all realize that you must plan for more vehicles coming to your school campus and plan a safe and effective way to get the students in your school.

Michael D. King AIA

Friday, April 12, 2013

Site Selection - Part 3

When considering a new site for a school building always keep in mind the utilities that are available to the site. Most sites have electricity nearby but find out from your power company if single phase or if three phase power is readily available. Your school will need three phase power to effectively handle the electrical load. Single phase will work, but will be more costly for the conductors, the electrical panels and switch gear. 

Another cost savings will be if natural gas is available to the site. Generally speaking utilizing natural gas to heat your school is more cost effective than electricity. This is not true if you are considering a geo thermal mechanical system however. Engaging a mechanical engineer to study the cost differential of the air conditioning and heating systems will tell you if utilizing natural gas is the most cost effective for your site. The distance to connect the gas line to the main will have a major impact on your cost comparison. The main line may simply be too far to connect and cost too much to run a line to serve your school. This is a cost that the school would pick up, the utility company will not pay for the extension of the gas line. 

Check to see if the site is within city limits and can be served with water and sanitary sewer. If you are outside of the city limits you may still be within the city ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction). This is the area just outside of cities that will eventually be annexed into the city. Some or all of the ETJ may have water and sanitary sewer service. If you are in a rural area there is most likely a water district that will have the services available. If not, you would have to provide the school a water source such as a well and sewer service of septic tanks and leach fields for smaller buildings or full treatment plants for larger schools. These would be governed by the local water district or county. 

Effective planning for the utilities to your site will let you know up front what the cost impact will be on your overall budget. You can't afford to wait until the construction has started to bring utilities to your site. Start the process early in the planning phase as it takes time to bring the needed utilities to your site.

Michael King AIA

Friday, March 22, 2013

Site Selection - Part 2

The Part 2 discussion is on the size and shape of the site and why it is important to the design and overall functionality of the school.

Often times land developers will approach school districts with a plot of land they have allocated for a school within their development. Although they may have good intentions (usually it is to make their development more attractive to potential buyers), they don't always give you the more desirable locations or shapes of property.  A site that is irregular in shape or out of proportion in one or two dimensions can be much more difficult to build on. The irregularity will create unusable areas, sharp corners (such as a parallelogram) or narrow access ways that are simply dead spaces with no functional possibilities. 

The most desirable shape for a plot of land is rectangular with the long side to short side ratio of 4:3. For example the long side of the tract is 400' long and the shorter side at 300'. I realize that this ratio is not possible for the majority of sites that would be available, but if you asked what would be the ideal, that would be my answer. Certainly buildings can be sited on square tracts or irregular shapes, but in general a rectangular shape gives the designer the best options for placing all the necessary elements of drives, parking, play grounds, athletic fields etc. on the site. . It is preferred to have contiguous sites with rectilinear shapes that are not too narrow and have gentle slopes. Sites with steep slopes can be used however; additional funds will be required for retaining walls and fencing.

When considering potential school site sizes and student capacity, there are several factors that should be given consideration. Each site size should be based on “ usable acres”. Usable acres can be defined as the amount of land remaining after utility/drainage easements, flood plains, power lines, and storm water detention requirements have been accounted for.

Additional consideration needs to be given to what grade levels will be located on the property. Elementary schools will require play areas. In some cases School Districts and Cities joint venture to place parks next to elementary schools to capitalize on the use of the land. High school sites can vary depending on the amount of parking and athletic venues required. The high school site below uses the following parameters: parking for 40% of the student population driving; competition football, baseball, softball fields; tennis courts, and a practice football field.  Also, vehicular access should be studied for high school sites. Additional access points are needed to accommodate larger driving populations. 

The following is a chart to outline basic site sizes for types of schools and various capacities. 

School Type
Student Capacity
Recommended Site Size
Elementary School
600-800 Students
10-15 acres
Middle School
1000 Students
30 acres
High Schools
750 to 2000 Students
60 acres

2000 to 3500 Students
70 acres

As always, this is a guideline. The school district should employ the services of a qualified design professional to assist in evaluating the potential sites prior to purchase to ensure the best value for the district.

Michael D. King AIA

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The USDOE seeks Educational Facilities Experts

The U.S. Department of Education's Impact Aid Program administers competitive grants for emergency repairs of school facilities to school districts whose property tax revenues are significantly impacted by the presence of Federal land.  The program is seeking school facilities experts to read and score applications for an upcoming grant competition.  Qualified field readers will have experience in school facilities management, administration of a state school facilities improvement program, architecture, or school business management.

Greensburg, KS tornado damaged school

 Readers are expected to read, comment on, and score applications before discussing the applications with their panel, which will be comprised of four readers.  Panels will convene via teleconference in the month of May, so readers must be generally available in that month.  Depending on the number of applications received  there will likely be two to three teleconferences over the course of the month, plus a training webinar.  Readers will be compensated for their time based on the number of applications scored.

The U.S. Department of Education solicits reviewers without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, age or disability.  The Department will provide reasonable accommodations for a qualified individual with a disability to participate in the review process.  The program is seeking a geographically diverse group of readers, including readers who are familiar with the challenges of managing schools in small, rural school districts.

More information about the grant program can be found on the program's website at  If you are willing to be considered, please email a current resume that describes your educational facilities experience to Amanda Ognibene at by March 29, 2013.