Originally constructed in 1917, with many additions over the years, Riverside Brookfield High School in Riverside, IL, was beginning to feel its age when District 208 began looking at remodeling the building in 2005.
“The infrastructure was 90 years old at the time, with very few updates,” says Andy Joseph, senior design architect for Wight & Company, the architect in charge of the modernization project. “Classrooms with one electrical outlet didn’t have much [to offer for a] 21st-century education. There was no air conditioning, the heating systems were antiquated and hard to control, the lighting fixtures were original … it was described as a tired, old school.”
Aside from the look of the building, many problems came with having such an old building. “There were additions in 1952 and 1960,” says Tim Scanlon, principal at Riverside Brookfield High School. “There were four parts of the building, so we didn’t have great egress, and we had a lot of bottlenecks in traffic flow.”
Comfort for students and teachers was also a problem. “Very little of the school was air conditioned,” says Larry Herbst, a member of the District 208 Board of Education. “Most of the electrical service was very old and dangerous. There were a number of life-safety issues. And, for curricular-driven modifications, we needed to expand our science labs.”
Wanting to improve technology and provide a space that would offer lots of flexibility, the school wanted a space that would enhance and be a tool for teaching – not something that got in the way, says Scanlon.
The district was also outgrowing the outdated building. “We were over 100-percent utilization in some departments; we had classes on the stage and in makeshift classrooms,” says Scanlon.
The district was able to address these issues with the passage of a referendum in Spring 2006. The referendum provided the funding and spending authority for the 4-year, $62 million project. “In many ways, it’s an entirely new place; you wouldn’t recognize it by walking down the hall,” says Kevin Havens, senior vice president and director of design for Wight & Company.
The scope of the renovation was comprehensive, and it completely modernized the outdated facilities (see Cost Breakdown by Phase). In addition to renovating the auditorium, the school added:
- New lockers
- Double-pane windows
- An updated boiler and HVAC system
- A new electrical system
- Classrooms and science labs
- A swimming pool and athletic field
To finish such an extensive renovation, the district completed the construction in phases, allowing the school to remain open during the course of construction. While the school was able to complete the project on budget and within its 4-year timeline, the construction schedule was not without challenges. “Because we had to do it in phases, trying to do [the construction] and still maintain a functioning, year-round school was tough,” says Scanlon. “We had to be very flexible, and we had to do a lot of change of space based on need. One day the stage in the gymnasium was a stage, and the next day it was a classroom; another time, it was something else. We turned spaces into whatever we needed them to be as we went through the phases.”
Scanlon emphasized the importance of communication throughout the construction process. “We had to make sure the public knew what was going on and that people knew we were spending the money prudently and in line with their requests,” he says.
The nature and complexity of the project also created challenges for the design team. Ed Faron, project manager for Wight & Company, says there were four major obstacles the team overcame. “Early on, there were no accurate blueprints of the building, so we spent the entire summer of 2006 sending teams of people out to the school to physically measure the entire building,” says Faron. “Also, since they had to live in the school while it was being built around them, the construction sequencing was very important.”
Although communication ensured project success, it also made things more difficult in some situations. “A school ‘client’ consists of a board of trustees, the administration, the department heads, and anybody who thinks they have information that’s valuable to the design effort,” says Faron. Information was gathered from three dozen people and organized so everyone could understand it. From there, degrees of importance were established.
Despite these challenges, construction went smoothly – the district did not go over budget, the building will be dedicated 4 years to the day after the passing of the referendum, and community response has been extremely positive. This is, in part, due to the extensive planning done at the beginning and a bit of luck with the timing.
The district was diligent in planning, starting with a campaign before the referendum to build community support through meetings with community members, faculty, staff, students, and the design team. “Our first step was to spend a lot of time at the school to understand what they lived with and what their issues were,” says Joseph. “We visited the school, we toured, we met with faculty, and we helped document needs in terms of what they envisioned for the next century of education.”
Careful planning extended into budgeting for the project. “We were conservative,” says Scanlon. “We put a good amount of money into contingencies and tried to be very conscientious.” While funding in a downward economy can be tough, the current economy worked in the district’s favor. “There was a certain element of dumb luck involved because of the economy during the last two years,” says Herbst. “We were getting more bidders for every phase of the project because everyone was looking for work, and their pricing reflected that. We also did a little homework, and we bought some of the major pieces ahead of time, when prices were lower.”
Overall, the project has been met with very positive community response, and has had an astounding effect on curriculum and the general learning environment. “We were able to increase our labs – we have computer labs for mathematics, and we have state-of-the-art foreign language labs. The biggest kick has been our increased science labs,” says Herbst. “It’s been a building process in making it more attractive to educators and students.”
It’s a greener building, too. “We’re using energy more efficiently, we’re using less fuel, we have permeable pavers, and we’re a little bit more conscientious of water reclamation,” says Scanlon. “The white roofs and other green elements raised awareness about being friendlier to the environment.”
Though the district was unable to obtain LEED certification, the district did its best to ensure that the newly remodeled building was more efficient. Scanlon says the efficiency upgrades are expected to lower the district’s fuel costs by 20 percent despite the addition of square footage and air conditioning to the entire facility. Additionally, Havens stated that a great amount of construction waste avoided the landfill and was reused during the course of the project – as of September 2009, approximately 87 percent of construction waste had been recycled.
Herbst emphasizes that other districts can be equally successful in modernizing their buildings with the right amount of planning and the right team. “I would tell any school district that’s behind the times, that’s wasting money on energy, that’s limited their programs because of their buildings: ‘Don’t be afraid to do it. Go for it.’ Just do a lot of homework, have a definite purpose and mission, and get the right people.”
Havens adds, “Once you get started and think through the things that need to take place, it’s pervasive. It affects the entire facility and everything about it. But, in the end, it’s worth it.”