Making the Renovation Decision

“What captivates me in renovation projects is capturing and preserving the history of the building,” says Robert Mankin, AIA, LEED-AP, a partner with the Los Angeles office of NBBJ. “Particularly in sports buildings, it’s an exciting challenge to reinvent a facility so that it’s state of the art, and yet the modernization doesn’t detract from the history of the great things that have occurred there.”

As Mankin notes, a renovation project can be exciting when done well. To ensure a successful ending, there are three factors that architects carefully consider to determine whether a facility should be renovated. When these elements are taken into account, it’s possible to not only extend the life of an existing facility, but also breathe new life into it altogether.

Structural Configuration

 “The first thing we look at is the facility’s structural configuration,” says Mankin. “Can the building be modified to accommodate modern amenities? Modifications can escalate to the point where renovation is simply cost prohibitive.”

Mankin cites as example the current renovation of UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, which is expected to be complete for the 2012-13 basketball season. “Built in 1965,” he notes, “we needed to incorporate the hospitality suites that are in demand today. There was the possibility that it wouldn’t make financial sense.” Fortunately, once compiled, the numbers showed that the renovation did make sense, and so the University avoided starting a new arena from scratch.

Renovating Pauley was especially exciting in that the NBBJ team was able to preserve the facility’s iconic crown — the trusswork that comprises the roof and is noticeable across campus and from nearby Sunset Boulevard. Mankin sees saving this exterior element as fitting hand-in-hand with preserving the building’s internal history.

Craig M. Smith, AIA, principal with the Chicago office of Loebl Schlossman & Hackl, agrees that infrastructure is a key consideration when looking at a facility renovation. He specifically notes that, if mechanical systems are out of date and need to be rebuilt, it changes the level of renovation. “In our higher education work,” he explains, “we believe that there are three levels of renovation: low, medium, and high. In early programming and design, we make that categorization and show administrators the level they’ll experience, indicated in terms of cost per square foot.”

Administrators at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL, faced such a decision-making challenge when considering the renovation of Berg Instructional Center, which consists of 477,000-sq.-ft.
in two attached classroom buildings that is used by more than 40 different academic departments. Built in 1969, the facility had very little energy efficiency, and the exterior steel skin had deteriorated dramatically. But what led to the decision to move forward with the renovation is that the building also houses the campus’ central chillers and mechanical systems. “They couldn’t start a new facility from scratch without first building a new central plant for the college,” says Smith.

The renovation is being done in two phases. Phase one, finished this past August, involved recladding the entire exterior, renovating approximately 250,000 sq. ft. of the main classroom building, and the addition of a 65,000-sq.-ft. Student Services building. The second phase, scheduled for completion in 2012, involves the renovation of most of the rest of the facility. Thanks to a thorough investigation of the infrastructure, Smith notes, administrators spent just 50 to 60 percent of what they would have had they started from scratch, and it looks brand new.

Campus Location

Simply stated, does the facility’s location make sense for its intended use? Has the campus grown away from the building, or has the campus evolved to the point that different uses have grown around the facility? “The nature of the original building and how it addresses the campus and how its façade responds to the campus has to be considered,” says Mankin. “The building’s position on campus, relative to when it was built to where it is now is an important consideration because it really informs what needs to be done and the extent of what can be reused in the building.” He observes that, since Pauley was built, the campus has grown, and now the facility is adjacent to major student crossroads, confirming the decision to renovate.

When administrators at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, MI, were considering renovating the facility that housed their expanding nursing program, they chose renovation over new construction — with a twist. Deciding to take advantage of the opportunity to acquire real estate at a good price because of the poor economy, they purchased an off-campus facility originally designed for child care and early childhood education and renovated it in 2010 to accommodate their nursing program.

Because the building has no physical relationship with the rest of the campus — it clearly isn’t on a major pedestrian crossroad — it was important to include space where students could feel a sense of community. To achieve this, two spaces were created in the center of the facility. The first is a community hub with a vending area where students can plug in laptops at high tables. The second is a community room used for testing during part of the year but informally used by students for most of the year.

“Administrators wanted to encourage activity, engagement, and collaboration between the faculty and students, and between students themselves,” observes Jim Chatas, AIA, LEED-AP, principal with the Detroit office of SHW Group. “It’s easy to turn square footage into another classroom. It’s another thing entirely to consider students’ needs and provide them with breakout space between classes.”

Renovation Cost

Because higher education projects typically have strict budgets, it’s important to quickly analyze the building to compare the cost of renovation versus the cost of building new. It’s not uncommon to begin a renovation project only to discover a stumbling block, a hidden structural issue that can quickly drive up the price of a project. Smith cautions that the more structural investigation done before starting design, the better in terms of time and cost savings: “And the older the facility, the more critical it is to do that,” he stresses.

Similarly, says Mankin, in any renovation project, there are gong to be some compromises. “It may be less expensive to renovate, but the savings may not be enough as spending a little more on a new facility that is optimized to current needs. At the end of the day, this comparison is a strong driver in the decision-making process.”

Structural configuration, campus location, and renovation cost are definitely driving factors in finding innovative and budget-conscious ways to improve existing facilities. In fact, they’re often so intertwined that it’s challenging to determine where one ends and the other begins. Yet, careful consideration of all three can lead to a successful campus renovation.

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