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Old Buildings & Good Old Buildings: Adaptive Reuse Strategies Give Old Buildings New Life

Old Buildings & Good Old Buildings: Adaptive Reuse Strategies Give Old Buildings New Life

It can seem natural to equate “new” with “better.” This common misnomer often causes facility leaders to perceive technology and mechanical systems upgrades as overwhelming challenges, discouraging them from adapting older existing structures into potential schools or reusing aging schools.

While it is true that some old buildings suffer conditions/parameters that would not warrant renovation, many do not. Such buildings can provide collaborative educational environments within the framework of historical preservation. To be successful, the design team must retain the integrity of the original structure while seamlessly integrating new spatial elements and mechanical and other systems to transform an old facility into a place for collaborative, 21st Century STEM education.

Older buildings constructed between 1910 and 1960 are often characterized as more imperfect than new construction; however, the quality of their materials and underlying structure are often far superior to modern building materials and methods. Given the rising costs of both materials and labor and the decreasing pool of skilled craftsmen, existing structures can provide a very credible alternative for new schools. Additionally, they can provide a construction scheduling head start because the facility is on an existing foundation already under-roof.

Tips and strategies

  • Plan for the features to be restored, but be open to compromise in renovation scope.
  • When addressing a minimal budget, focus on limiting the project scope through efficient design. It’s better to reduce the scope of the project than limit future flexibility or compromise the quality of construction.
  • Assign a generous contingency fund up front, and plan to use it. With proper planning, the use of an existing structure will more than compensate for any potential challenges.
  • Set a reasonable timeline for the project. Work ahead with your design team to identify scenarios that might be discovered and their potential solutions.

A case in point, the Caldwell County Schools just began reconstruction of their Granite Falls Middle School. Initially constructed in 1935, with additions in 1948 and 1996, the new design plan restores the original 1935 school to create an 825-student middle school (a projected savings of $2.5 million over new construction), all the while saving a community icon, including a much beloved 270-year-old white oak tree. Through adaptive building reuse, an old facility has the opportunity to become a learning tool itself — its past essence, demonstrating old-style craftsmanship and detailing, and imparting awareness and appreciation for all of the various types of structures that make up the community fabric.

Adaptive reuse projects involve redevelopment of deteriorating non-school building resources within a community. For example, in Reading, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s Medical Center vacated its 140-year-old hospital and its six-block campus in the city. The local school district converted the abandoned hospital facility into a high school for almost $30 million less than new construction.

With careful planning, revamping old facilities can make an old building into a good old “new” building. Restoration can make the old even better, instilling students with the importance of repurposing and revitalization while cost-effectively educating and preparing them for 21st Century success.

Written by NCSBA Diamond Affiliate Member Vern L. McKissick III, AIA, LEED AP, a principal at McKissick Associates Architects in Winston-Salem. Reach him at vmckissick@mckissickassociates.com.

Ramona PowersOld Buildings & Good Old Buildings: Adaptive Reuse Strategies Give Old Buildings New Life