With enrollment numbers growing, school officials in Stamford, Conn., knew they needed to do something to add space at Westover Elementary School. They studied the site, crunched the numbers, and wrestled with the multi-million-dollar question that nearly every district has to face sooner or later: Re-invest in an old building, or construct a new school?
"We worked with the district on two or three separate plans for renovations and significant additions," says Jeff Sells, a design leader with Fletcher Thompson Architects, Bridgeport, Conn.
Ultimately, the district decided it would be better educationally and financially to build a new Westover Elementary School. It opened last fall on the same campus as the old school.
Each district has to decide the best way to deal with its older buildings. In doing so, officials need to take into account the school's educational needs, the community's attachment to a facility, and what the district can afford.
"Whether you can renovate or should just rebuild-that varies with every project," says Sells. "Don't assume you can't renovate or convert an old building."
For Westover, a new school made more sense. But at the same time, Stamford decided to renovate and expand another of its schools-Hart Elementary, a much older building.
"Hart had much more solid construction and more charming architecture," says Pat Broom, a former school-board member who is now the city's director of operations.
Using resources wisely
Initially, the district asked the city for money to replace both Hart and Westover. The oldest section of Hart was built in 1905, and Westover was built in 1955.
"Westover was not a great building to begin with," says Broom. "It was not energy-efficient. The flow was bad. You had to go through classrooms to get to other classrooms."
City officials wanted to explore renovation.
"The city said, 'Go back and make sure you're using the space efficiently, and look at modulars and other alternatives,'" says Broom.
As time passed, the political climate changed, and city officials began leaning toward a new Westover.
"Westover was old and was in horrendous condition," says Broom. "We said, 'Are we really sure [renovation] is the best use of our resources?'"
The district wanted to increase space at Westover to 135,000 square feet from 65,000 square feet.
"When you factor in the age of the building and the compromises they would have to make, they decided to go with a totally new building," says Sells.
Building a new school would cost about $16 million, while renovating and upgrading the old space would cost about $13.5 million.
But if it built a new facility, the city would receive $2 million more in reimbursement from the state, making the costs more comparable.
"A new building will last much longer than the modulars that were part of the retrofit plan-50 to 60 years instead of 20 to 25," says Tony LoFaso, the district's facilities manager. "And in a new building, the space is planned for the educational program."
Meanwhile, at Hart, the district pursued renovation.
"Even though it was an older building, it was in better shape," says LoFaso. "It had more historical significance."