Many school buildings are more than 50 years old and have the potential to be landmarks. However, few schools of this vintage actually receive official landmark designation, which would protect them from inappropriate exterior alterations and repairs.
Over the years, weather and use take a toll on a building's facade. Often, this leads to failing roofs, masonry, parapets, structural steel, cast iron, windows, doors and hardware. In many cases, deferred maintenance or inappropriate upgrades have made conditions worse, and a building can lose its character-defining elements.
Whether a school is a historical landmark or simply an older building, an approach based on proven preservation methods can develop systematic solutions that treat existing materials appropriately. Over the long term, such a strategy will reduce maintenance costs and subsequent future major rehabilitation projects, and maintain the structure's integrity.
Do your research
Historical research is the first step when pursuing preservation or rehabilitation. This process unearths useful technical data on architectural conditions, material compositions and sources, and building systems. Information gathered during research will serve as the basis for on-site documentation of existing physical conditions.
Historical documents also are useful in tracking which modifications have been completed, as well as which building deficiencies are likely to recur. Gather the building's original plans, specifications and construction photographs prior to a field inspection. Although original drawings and specifications may not reflect the actual construction because of unrecorded field changes or substitutions, these documents are the basis for the visual inspection that will confirm, refute or augment the recorded information.
In the case of a landmark building, school officials should check with local or state public historic-preservation agencies, which already may have documented some of the building's history.
A complete understanding of the building, its components and the deterioration process is essential. An existing-conditions survey should document the building's composition, configurations and as-built conditions. Using comprehensive documentation to evaluate existing conditions is the basis for developing a precise scope of work. This will lead to more accurate contract documents and bids. A survey also can help schools uncover unforeseen conditions before construction begins.
By assessing the historical record, inspecting the site and testing materials, a survey will document existing materials, construction assemblies and conditions. It identifies to what extent a facility has deteriorated and should uncover conditions that are hazardous or may lead to irreparable loss of features or finishes. This information can be used to stabilize, protect and repair a facility.
During a field survey, an architect also will quantify repairs. For example, rather than graphically indicating areas of the facade that require re-pointing and allowing bidders to estimate the area in square feet, the area should be quantified so all bidders can submit a unit cost.