A: In some instances, like with some of the schools that we’ve been doing in the Washington, D.C., there’s an established neighborhood school and there’s a very strong community connection to the building. They want to preserve the building because it has long been part of the community and there’s a lot of heritage associated with it.
SCN: How does adaptive reuse work towards sustainability and LEED?
SO: All of our school buildings are pursuing LEED at this point. Using the existing fabric of the buildings readily contributes to sustainability and to LEED, and we try to preserve as much as we can to retain the character of the building. We’ve been scoring relatively well on the LEED system in terms of reuse of existing materials.
There is also a bit of a philosophy, as well, that there is heritage in reused buildings and there is a significant investment in them and that philosophically maintaining these buildings’ livelihood in some ways is worth doing, regardless of the rating system that you are using.
One of the challenges that we’ve had oftentimes is increasing the thermal performance of the buildings. Many times, the exterior wall is not insulated, or the window systems maybe single-paned, and there may be no roof insulation. Gaining greater energy performance is one of the challenges, typically, with reusing these existing buildings, but it’s something that we’ve been able to achieve.
The other challenge that we have with existing buildings with the LEED system is meeting the acoustical criteria, particularly when we’re dealing with a historic building. That problem gets into the interior finishes used, which in these older buildings may be all hard surfaces — wood floors, plaster walls and ceilings, and very reflective surfaces. We’ve had to modify some of the historic finishes to accommodate modern acoustical criteria for educational environments.
Q: What are some of the challenges associated with installing 21st century school technology into these buildings?
SO: In many ways they adapt very readily. The older the school building, to some extent, the easier it adapts.
SCN: Why is that?
SO: Educational technology, for the most part, is not a very intensive space user like mechanical systems can be. But the older buildings are more generous in terms of their space so you have greater floor-to-floor heights and you can run modern systems through them more readily than the late ’50s and ’60s buildings, which are more spacially constrained and more tightly designed.
Q: What are some overall benefits to the community with adaptive reuse?
A: The community gets to see what is quite often a cherished building continue to successfully contribute to society, and in a lot of ways you couldn’t have more important civic buildings than schools. Also, because we’re dealing with older building stocks, quite often the structures are embedded in communities and therefore are more walkable, which makes them more sustainable and contributes to the health and wellness of the community.
There’s a bit of a cultural legacy that a lot of these older buildings have, you might say. In a lot of ways, they continue to contribute by adding their historical architecture to the environment. Many times, the historical architecture is interesting and is pedestrian oriented and has a different scale than you might find in more contemporary aesthetics. There’s a value in preserving that sort of architectural heritage in a community.