Saturday, August 9, 2014

What About Renovating Tech High?

Our school district has conducted three facilities plans in the last 15 years (2005, 2008, and 2011).    Each of these plans recommended that ultimately a new Tech High School would be constructed to the south, probably on land in the neighborhood of Nina park and 33d.   The first plan, 2005, recognized that this could not happen until the community was ready.  It envisioned that we would monitor enrollment, consider public sentiment, and continue to dialog with parents and other stakeholders and municipal planning authorities.  During the last decade, the school district under Bruce Watkins began to negotiate a land-swap with the City of St. Cloud for a potential new school site, and when the City updated its comprehensive plan it factored in the likely new school location and development of the adjoining park.

Recently, as the Board has moved forward in anticipation of replacing Tech high, as contemplated by the facilities plan, some people have advocated that we reconsider this plan and attempt to save the current high school.   They argue that we haven't carefully reviewed the possibilities of renovation and they want us to consider our options more carefully before we make our final decision.   The board has on its agenda for Wednesday August 13, 2014, approval of request for architect proposals.
The administration is recommending that the architect's advice include professional opinions and data on whether we should rethink the current plan to build on a new site, and instead investigate more intensively the possibility that Tech can be renovated.

This post, then, contains some links at the bottom to articles that focus on the renovation option.   None of these articles can answer the question whether renovation is feasible and sensible for our school district, because the answer depends on answering some questions that are specific to that school building, specific to our school district and to our community.   The articles that I am linking to tend to be weighted towards the renovation possibility, because they have been written generally by authors who favor renovation, or who believe that renovation deserves close scrutiny.   That fact should not suggest that I'm in the renovation camp:  right now, no professional has provided us with advice that would suggest that renovation is prudent.  That's the point of asking the architect who will advise the district to take a deeper and more careful look at the question. 

    Technical high school presents some major challenges from a renovation standpoint.    There are major structural issues in many parts of the building that our maintenance people tell us would be very costly to fix to modern code standards.   Renovation of a building triggers application of today's code standards.  For example the stairwells at Tech evidently are not current code compliant, and yet they abut structural features on either side, so bringing them into code compliance may require costly and inconvenient structural changes to those structures.  There are asbestos challenges.  We've had some moisture leakage at the junctions of the different additions. No school board could approve renovation without engaging in substantial due diligence to make sure that the reconstruction is feasible and that there are not potential unknown cost challenges.  Renovation also entails a temporary but very significant short term challenge:  where to put the students while the facility is being renovated.  

 Both Tech and Apollo were built during an era of cheap energy.   Architects couldn’t justify, couldn’t even imagine, the kinds of energy saving measures that we regard as routine today. The new Kennedy  building is Leeds certified.  It has geothermal energy support, and the architect designed windows and space to maximize the use of light an energy.    Apollo was constructed at a time, when school architects built sprawling suburban style schools with lots of outer surface space and very little attention (by today's standards) to energy conservation.  Modern  construction and design is vastly superior today in terms of energy conservation.   

    Another issue relates to the future development of our 250 square mile district.   Growth in the metropolitan area is occurring in a far different way than folks anticipated in the 1960's.  When Apollo was built, our district’s population was concentrated in a Northern crescent. Its difficult to place yourself back in that time.  But there were great expanses of land available for development in the northern crescent of St. Cloud and the City of St. Cloud was actually subsidizing that growth.  If you drive along Northway drive, you will see areas on either side that represent major growth areas of the City back then.   In the meantime, the surrounding townships --- St. Cloud Township, Sauk Rapids Township, St. Augusta township and Haven Township, had no modern municipal water and sewer, and didn't get those services until the 1980's and 1990's.  For a long period, the FHA placed a mortgage moratorium on financing home construction in the townships, because there was no long term supply of safe water to support growth  in those areas without municipal sewer.  When Apollo was constructed, city planners thought that most of the City's growth was going to take place in that northern crescent.   They didn't foresee the spreading out of urban growth that occurred decades later.  At the time, it was common for people to have many more children living on a small lot with a small home.  So a full high school's population could come from that northern crescent.  That is simply no longer the case.

When St. Cloud Township was annexed into the City, all of a sudden it became possible to extend municipal services into the old township. The City began aggressively to compete with suburban style growth by creating infrastructure  in the Oak Hill area  It became possible to build a home on a larger lot with municipal services.  Then St. Augusta and Haven Township made agreements with St. Cloud for municipal services and a number of subdivisions started to grow there.   St. Joseph started to expand and more and more our population has moved outward away from the northern crescent. Our school district is 250 square miles, but the two high schools were built both in what is now the northern edge of the metropolitan area only two miles apart.   So we have to recognize what has happened to the population center of our school district.

 All of these are factors that led the facilities task forces to recommend new high school construction to the south.  But we should not fear revisiting these issues.   A substantial number of people are telling us that they want to give this question another harder look, and we need to do that, but with professional advice and data.  The advocates for renovation need to be a part of that process, so that their voices are heard in a meaningful way as we ask questions and vet the answers of the professionals we retain.  In the meantime, I'm posting some resources that folks might find useful.    If you want to send me an email with suggestions for other resources, feel free to do so. 

Each of the articles mentioned begins with a bolded link to the article, so you can navigate to that article by clicking on the link right at the beginning.

The Long Haul:  “The decision to repair or replace a facility doesn't happen overnight; it requires long-range planning.  Some older facilities are characterized by higher test scores, more parental involvement and greater community pride. But when parents, staff, students and community members express frustrations about a facility, and students leave for newer schools in neighboring districts, it may be time to consider new construction. Excessive repair needs, high energy consumption and operating costs, thermal discomfort and the inability to physically support the education program are evidence that a building no longer provides a good environment for learning.”

A Final Determination  “Careful analysis is necessary when deciding whether to renovate a building, or tear it down and start from scratch. “   Author argues that when viewed from a strictly all-costs-considered cost perspective, for many facilities replacement with a new facility may be more costly than renovation.

New Construction vs. Renovation for Older School Facilities  Three factors generally trigger a decision to take a serious look at an aging school: health and safety deficiencies, outdated or poorly operating building systems, and program changes…..While sometimes the cost of replacing outdated systems, upgrading life and safety deficiencies, and accommodating program expansions within existing K-12 schools far exceeds the cost of building a new facility, there may be good reasons for to renovate an older building rather than build a new one……It is impossible to generalize. Community needs and sentiment, facility deficiencies and economics all play roles. Renovating can simply be the right thing to do, make the most economical sense or provide a school district with the right space given available funds. One thing is certain: Renovating older schools is challenging.

Cinderella Stories: Adaptive Reuse of Older Buildings.  Focus in this article is university buildings.  When considering renovation there are at least five tests that determine if the effort should be pursued:
1. Land acquisition is unrealistic.
2. Existing infrastructure has capacity.
3. Funding is limited.
4. There is historical value or alumni support.
5. Sustainability is a priority.

 If extensive demolition or structural work is necessary to convert a building to a new use, these items can cause renovation costs to go up to near or beyond the typical cost of building new structures. In addition to those issues, abatement of hazardous materials such as lead or asbestos can be financially significant and extend schedules beyond expectations. All of these issues should be analyzed and planned for by the project team…..Also, there are times when closing a building, or a portion of it, for renovation is unacceptable. Some functions on campus are simply mission-critical; they must stay in operation.

Historic Neighborhood Schools Deliver 21st Century Educations  Describes some success stories in which historic school buildings have been renovated.   “Many people equate old schools with substandard schools, but as hundreds of school districts throughout the United States have shown, well-renovated, well-maintained historic schools can support a first-class twenty-first century educational program.”

Renovate or Build New   Ohio School Facilities Commission  “Communities have options and flexibility when deciding whether to construct a new facility or retain the current building. Whether the decision is to renovate or build a new school, the ultimate objective is the same–provide the best possible place for students to grow and learn.

Factors to Consider:

  • Does the building have historical significance?
  •  Do the costs of rehabilitating the current facility outweigh the costs of building new?
  • Can the facility be renovated to accommodate 21st Century instructional delivery practices and modern technologies?
  • Are there parts of the building that should be retained? Are there sections that should be replaced?
  •  Is the facility properly sized for the school population of today and of the future?
  • Is the building well lit, spacious and comfortable?
  • Will the facility be operationally efficient?
  • Does the environment impart a feeling of safety and well-being?
There are countless ways to commemorate the historical significance of an older building in the newly constructed replacement building. Districts that have built new schools through OSFC programs have developed creative ways to reuse parts of the older building in the new school to
give it character and to recognize history.

Rethinking Schools Capital Investment  The Three R’s, Refresh, refurbish, reuse….   British publication.   Schools continue to need significant capital investment and in many cases new build may be the only option available. However, the refurbishment of existing schools may have a valuable place in contributing to the reduction of the UK financial deficit whilst significantly helping to raise educational standards and improve the life chances of young children

Howe Community School....example of renovation project.   "Howe Community School reopened after a year-long renovation transforming the historic 1927 school into a 21st Century learning environment after sitting completely unoccupied for 7 years. In addition to the classroom & teaching space improvements, the renovation provided much needed air conditioning and replaced the building’s mechanical, electrical and stormwater management infrastructure.  Exterior improvements included a new playground, accessible entrances, new windows and roofs, and masonry pointing to rehabilitate and reinforce the building as a strong community oriented asset. The school and site are once again full of life and activity serving the Longfellow neighborhood.

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