Everything Old Is New Again: Here Are Three Notable Renovations That Can Help Guide You through Your District's Current or Upcoming Work. (Focus: School building)(Cover Story)

Article excerpt

The average public school in America is 42 years old. More than a quarter are over 50 years old, leading the National Education Association to estimate that it will take about $322 billion to modernize U.S. public schools. Why? Deferred maintenance means that across the country roofs are leaking, heating and air conditioning systems are outdated and inadequate, and classrooms can't support new technology. Add to this research that shows children who attend modern, technologically advanced schools are more committed to learning than their peers. These facts mean districts large and small are contemplating whether to repair their aging schools or start from scratch. The tally these days is about 50-50, with half of the projects getting built from scratch and half renovations, experts say.

Districts choose to renovate for a variety of reasons, but cost and sentiment are cited most often. While building costs differ dramatically in different regions of the country, renovations typically cost about two-thirds the price of building a new school, says Michael Hall, chief marketing officer of Fanning/ Howey Associates, one of the largest educational architecture and design firms in the U.S. In addition, school boards and community members often prefer schools to stay put, for nostalgic reasons and because of the central role the buildings often occupy in communities.

And while cost and continuity weigh in favor of renovation, disruptions to the education process during construction can be difficult for students. Research indicates that test scores decrease by several points during remodeling projects as a result of construction distractions, according to the Council of Educational Facility Planners International of Scottsdale, Ariz. Educators who have been through renovation projects are inclined to insist architects and builders be keenly aware of the mission of the institution and embrace a phased approach to construction.

But when renovation, rebuilding or remodeling projects are envisioned, stakeholders can be swayed by location, cost, architecture and other concerns. For school planners, though, the mantra is that the design must fit the educational mission.

"School design is predicated by the educational program," says John G. Willi, an architect and principal at Fanning/Howey. "It's not as much about architecture but providing the resources--whether it's technology or infrastructure--to meet educational needs and challenges."

Ohio-based Fanning/Howey has completed work on 800 schools since 1996. Below are sketches of three recent renovation/addition projects, with insight from the district administrators responsible for them.

Lake Worth High School

They called it the "mole hole," and to hear former principal David Cantley tell it, the four classrooms and a science lab located in a basement classroom area at Lake Worth High School were among the worst in all of Florida.

"Every time it rained the rats would start running, and it would flood," Cantley recalls.

But that was before Palm Beach County, the 15th largest school district in the nation, pumped more than $48 million into three stages of renovations at the 2,900-student high school. Now, the school has a campus with more than a dozen buildings, centered around two historic Mediterranean-style structures that stand out for their clay and ceramic tile walls, and Spanish barrel-tile roofs.

"Architecturally it all blends together to match the 1926 Mediterranean-style buildings," says Raymond Manning, the Fanning/Howey principal in charge of the project.

The project is billed as a renovation, but it included significant new construction. Phase one, completed in late 1998, was an $18.5 million project that included renovating the two historic buildings, building a new three-story cafeteria and classroom building, and installing new water, fire, communications and power infrastructure throughout the campus. …