Saturday, October 1, 2016

Technical High School Must be Replaced

Since my first year of service on the District 742 school board, our Technical High School’s useful life calendar has been turning its last pages.  For many decades, past school boards have put off building a new high school, by constructing additions, remodels, alterations and make-do-temporary- fixes.  Tech's boilers are themselves at the end of their useful life, and when the boilers fail, modern building codes will require that the new boiler installation will trigger a cascade of major costly alterations and upgrades, at the end of which, we would have a school still impaired and still not fit for 21st century learning.  We've been advised that we are risking a major boiler failure:   but we've also been advised that replacing the boilers would be so costly as to constitute a waste of public funds. 

I'm going to summarize the professional advice that the Board of Education has received here, but you can read actual reports online, and at the bottom of this post, you will find links to the original reports.  There are two reasons that the District is seeking to upgrade our two high schools.  The first, perhaps the most important, is the need to provide our students with 21st century learning spaces.   But this post focuses on the urgency of the undertaking:  because Technical High School has outlived its useful life. 

Three different reports on the condition of Technical High School from architects, consultants and local general contractors all point to the same conclusion.    Local general contractor Gohman Construction advised us that the school remodeling would require a costly overhaul that would substantially exceed the cost of building new, while still leaving the high school on a small land parcel far below state standards for a new high school. (Click here for original Report).  Among the required construction work would be:
  • Asbestos abatement - in everything from floor covering, glue, caulking and mechanical systems.
  • Ceiling demolition to create access.
  • Complete electrical system replacement - manufacturer of current service panels are no longer in business.
  • Removal of slab on grade to allow access to sewer lines (existing sewer lines collapsing).
  • Replacement of plumbing and sewer system.
  • Replacement of HVAC system duct work and piping.
  • Replacement of windows and entrance doors.
  • Remodel stairways to meet ADA codes
  • Removal of combustible wood from building to meet codes. (The 1915 and 1938 buildings are complete wood structures with brick veneer. How this can be addressed within the codes is unknown.)
  • Pool modifications to meet new codes.
  • New finishes throughout to bring up to modern standards
But even if this work were all done, we still would have a building that is inflexible and unsuitable for 21st century learning.  If the voters would approve such a costly project, it is unlikely that the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) would allow the District to attempt such a costly repair, simply to save the old building.   MDE strongly recommends against renovations that cost more than 60% of the cost to build new, and then only if the renovation results in a suitable facility.   The repairs required for Tech would exceed the cost of building new, and still leave us, as I have said, with a subpar building.

In its report, (click here for the original) RA Morton, an experienced construction general contractor wrote:
It is our opinion that the Tech High School building can be viable for other community or re-development purposes but has gracefully outlived its effective purpose for educational programs without substantial cost and phasing challenges to renovate.
By phasing challenges, RA Morton refers to the fact that trying to rehabilitate Technical High School would interrupt school and likely involve finding a different location for students and classrooms during the various phases of construction.   RA Morton estimated that the construction would involve two costs.  The first set of costs, $78 million, represent the estimate of simply renovating and updating mechanical/electrical systems.  The high cost represents in part the cascading effect of having to replace old infrastructure all of which was constructed under far different construction and safety codes.   The second set of costs would be cost associated with major reconfiguration of educational programming space.   And, as the Gohman report explains, reconfiguration in a building with weight bearing internal walls is tremendously challenging.

In April, a group of architects, consulting engineers and local contractors toured the Tech site with the board of education's finance committee.  You can find a copy of the report of what was found by clicking on this link.   The report contains a detailed discussion of the challenges posed by Tech High School:  

ICS, a nationally recognized construction consulting firm with school construction experience wrote the following, after the site visit:
The facility is a product of many decades of “reactive” renovation which  has resulted in a very disconnected and disjointed facility. It is possible to “re-create” a new 21st Century Tech HS on the current site, but this strategy would result in more overall cost, difficult and disruptive phasing, added complexity, and would still be saddled with inherent limitations and compromise due to site constraints and other factors.

Extensive infra-structure issues exist including heating, ventilation, electrical, and plumbing systems. Significant educational space adjacency issues throughout the various vintages of the facility limiting the ability to appropriately organize curricular departments due to space constraints. Major circulation, way-finding, occupant flow, and accessibility issues leading to excessive passing times and lost instructional time.

Varying structural systems (including extensive areas of wood structure) within the various vintages of the facility resulting in added complexity and costs associated with any major renovations and/or improvement project. Grossly limited 8 acre site resulting in inadequate parking, poor access, and limited green/activity space. Rigid building configuration resulting in the inability to readily re-organize to facilitate/enable 21st Century flexible learning communities and opportunities.
An architect from GLT architects wrote:

Bearing wall construction severely limits the ability to re-organize to facilitate/enable 21st century flexible learning communities and opportunities without significant demolition and reconstruction. Although it is theoretically possible to create a new 21st century tech high school on the current site, this strategy would require acquiring additional property, relocation of existing major city utilities, demolition of a significant portion of the existing building, major demolition and reconstruction of the existing facility to remain. That would require additional phasing (and years) to accomplish without disruption of instructional time. Even so, the site would still have many of the inherent limitations and compromises due to site constraints.

For further information go to the District Bond Referendum website or to the VoteYes
site, or both.
Finance Committee Report .
 RA Morton ReportClick Gohman Report