America's cities are dotted with older buildings that have distinct architectural character. Built from the mid-19th century through the 1940s, many of these structures stand empty, while others are used as factories, warehouses, department stores or schools. With urban school districts and universities facing a boom in school-age population and a shortage of facilities,it is impossible to ignore the tremendous opportunity these buildings can offer as safe, attractive and distinctive spaces for schools or colleges.
Many of these buildings are ideal for schools. They offer the key characteristics of successful educational spaces-rooms of the right size and proportion; high ceilings; large fenestration that provides good natural lighting and ventilation; and layouts that provide space for project-intensive learning.
These buildings also represent a great investment in building materials and human energy. Renovating them to meet new school requirements is an environmentally responsible strategy.
Historical structures often display an architectural dignity, a civic presence that enriches the urban fabric. The enduring quality of materials and construction, the crafted detailing and the symbolic references incorporated in the design rarely are represented in newer school construction. With thoughtful renovation and the incorporation of new technologies, these facilities can blend the cutting edge with historical continuity.
Although building renovation may cost more than new construction, a new structure may not have the quality of a historical building. A recent comparison indicated that constructing a new school with the quality and character of an older structure would cost 16 to 20 percent more than renovating and updating a historical building.
A creative design and client team can have great success adapting facilities to new educational uses. The result is a distinctive place that can improve the learning that takes place and contributes to a city's urban character.