Longevity, Sustainability Key Priorities in Design, Construction of Educational Institutions



New and renovated educational buildings are rising around the St. Louis region and their design requires a special set of eyes.

Educational institutions – whether a university, high school or elementary school – feature characteristics different than other projects such as hospitals, corporate headquarters or retail centers. One of the biggest characteristics from a construction standpoint that sets educational facility construction and design apart from other types is the challenge of working on a project while school is in session.

Creating a safe environment for students is paramount, according to architects and general contractors. With all the educational construction occurring now, several general contractors and architectural firms addressed the issue of safety.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

In May, Washington University will begin one of the most significant capital projects in recent history: the eastward expansion of the Danforth Campus from Brookings Hall to Skinker Boulevard.

The plan includes three new academic buildings, an expansion of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, two new multi-use facilities, an 800-space underground garage and a new Central Green. The project’s completion is expected by May 2019.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. is general contractor for the project. Project Manager Ryan Moss said working on a large school project has to take into consideration the pedestrian traffic in and around a work site.

“Keeping in mind that education is the main goal, and that we are visitors there,” Moss said, “we have to make sure before we put a shovel in the ground that we are preplanning and communicating our overall construction plan with the university. We work through the scenario of what sidewalks and roads will be shut down, and the temporary means for the university to access areas either by cars or foot,” he said.

The project’s unique challenges include the fact that although it appears to be one large, single project, according to Moss, it is actually comprised of multiple buildings and elements, each with their own design and function. “We’ve had to dissect each building to figure out the best approach to balance design, budget, and schedule so that the project functions as a single project from a construction standpoint,” said Moss.

Philadelphia, PA-based KieranTimberlake is the architect for the project, which is working toward LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In defining the differences between designing in the educational realm as opposed to corporate or retail, Partner Richard Maimon said one difference is the importance of place to the institution’s identity.

“At Washington University, the character of the campus, architecture and landscape are intrinsic to the university’s image,” Maimon said. “Universities build for the long term. Instead of a commercial development that may be leased and sold, university buildings are built to last for 75 years or more, so clients carefully consider the quality of materials, the cost of ownership and environmental sustainability over the long term.”

PARIC Corporation

Webster University is adding a new Interdisciplinary Science Building to its campus. The $44 million LEED-designed project will triple the number of science labs on campus and support greater academic collaboration. Attached to the existing East Academic Building, the 85,000-square-foot, four-story ISB will house science, technology, engineering, arts, math and medical programs. PARIC Corporation is the project’s general contractor. Completion of the project is anticipated in June.

Jason Szachnieski, PARIC senior project manager, said it is essential to work within the university’s academic calendar deadlines.

“We’re on an active campus, so typical protocol is to isolate the building with the appropriate barricade,” Szachnieski said. “With a June completion, the university will have time to move the equipment, fixtures and faculty into the new building, to be called Browning Hall, before school starts in August.”

CannonDesign performed the architectural work with Richard Bacino as project manager.

Bacino said that although there are similarities in designing a building, whether it is an educational institution, a corporate headquarters or a hospital, the unique design differences emerge while assessing the client’s needs.

“Different projects have different needs, and that’s how you start to deviate,” Bacino said.  “Educational facilities – whether elementary, high school or university level – tend to work with more of a select age group. A healthcare facility may address a population from pediatrics to geriatrics, while a corporate office building might have needs that are similar to an educational facility but with a diverse age group. Corporate and healthcare design is flexible to a degree, but educational facilities have to be designed for change – that’s important,” he added.

Another aspect of educational facility design is what Bacino refers to as “soft space,” meaning less rigidly defined space where collaborating and socializing often occur.

“Corporations have borrowed that design concept that from the academic world to encourage people to come together and exchange ideas,’ he said.

S.M. Wilson & Co.

S.M. Wilson & Co. is giving facelifts and additional space to three area schools.

Ladue Horton Watkins High School is receiving an $82.2 million, 363,000-square-foot addition and renovation focusing on updating the academic core of the building. Work is scheduled for completion in time for the 2018-19 school year.

Cor Jesu Academy is adding an $8.9 million, 39,000-square-foot, three-level Performance Gymnasium and Student Commons complex. This project broke ground in April 2015 and will be completed in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

Maplewood Richmond Heights Early Childhood Center is undergoing a $7.9 million, 15,000-square-foot renovation to include a new 90-space parking lot and classroom improvements. The project is expected to reach completion this August.

Kort Cole, S.M. Wilson & Co. director of operations, manages all three of these educational projects; Cole said the way that construction contracts are issued for educational projects differs from that of other commercial construction work.

“On Cor Jesu, we hold the contract for the actual project, and we are responsible for the overall cost of the project,” Cole said. “The Ladue and Maplewood projects have the construction manager as an agent. The school district holds contracts with the individual trades, so it’s a little different in that regard.”

Another uniqueness among educational design and construction projects is that the school facilities are typically occupied while construction is taking place, requiring communication and coordination with the faculty and administration to cause as little disruption as possible.

“That’s part of our ‘Beyond the Build’ tagline,” said Cole. “It’s not just the bricks and mortar that make up the building. We’re constantly coordinating with students’ activities so kids can get to and from class without incident.”

Construction work is not quiet work; although constructing an office building can be distracting, jackhammers and bobcats can really wreak havoc on young minds when educational construction is taking place during the school day.

“During naptime at the Maplewood Richmond Heights Early Childhood Center, we find work that doesn’t involve loud noises or we work in another location,” Cole said, adding that while renovations and additions are nothing new to hospitals or corporate offices, a construction project for a school can involve unfamiliar territory.

“This may be the one big project in those educators’ career,” Cole said. “We typically place a concentrated emphasis on a lot of pre-project education with the school districts, since they have a board to respond to and they may not have much experience in the construction world.”

Hastings+Chivetta Architects, Inc. is the architect of record for the Ladue Horton Watkins High School and Cor Jesu Projects. Bond Architects, Inc. is the design architect for Ladue Horton Watkins High School and Maplewood Richmond Heights Early Childhood Center.

Stephen DeHekker, Hastings+Chivetta senior vice president, said one difference between school projects and others is that schools see their buildings as a long-term investment. “They have no intention of selling their facilities,” DeHekker said. “Schools usually expand in their location, so there’s a permanence there. However, students are constantly changing and their needs evolving, so flexibility and the ability to expand is very important.”

Public and private entities have different ways of financing their projects, according to DeHekker. What both share in common, however, is the requirement of portraying their project’s legitimacy. Both, therefore, need to demonstrate fiscal responsibility, he said.

“What differentiates good school design is that it is really designing to improve curriculum,” said Art Bond, co-founder and managing partner of Bond Architects. “A lot of these facilities were done originally or expanded in a cookie-cutter fashion. What we’re doing today is determining how to maximize the educational opportunities within these buildings.”


Sometimes a facility is so wanted and needed, funding can come from expected sources.

HOK designed the new College of Optometry at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Paul Whitson, HOK senior vice president said that one of the big drivers of an educational facility is the board of overseers and how it appropriates capital for construction projects.

“For many state universities, there is less state funding,” Whitson said. “UMSL is a great example.

Because the student body felt so strongly about it, and because Chancellor Thomas George had such a good vision, UMSL voted in favor of an increase in its service fees to cover the cost of the building,” Whitson said. ”It turned into a wonderful collaboration between students, faculty, the administration’s board of regents and us as architects to come up with a lot of great things.”

IWR North America

Although IWR North America is a building enclosure contractor and not an architectural or engineering firm, it works closely with architects and engineers in a design-assist role by focusing on total building envelope solutions – including wall panels and glass – that create a distinct look for a particular building.

“We direct the client on what could be used and what does and doesn’t meet code,” said Keith Myers, executive vice president of MHS Legacy Group, the St. Louis-based holding company of IWR North America. “Hospitals will be more concerned with the internal climate so they will be looking for enclosures that meet certain values, like UV values so the sun doesn’t affect patients,” he said. “They care more about interior comfort level.”

Educational facilities prioritize durability, Myers said, regardless of students’ ages, because the ease and cost of replacement is a true concern. “The first thing we do is ask the architect and owner what they want to achieve,” Meyers said. “If it’s a private university like Washington University, aesthetics are important because it can impact student recruitment. In contrast, public schools are more concerned about cost,” he added. “We provide clients the information upon which to base their decisions.”


Hager Companies: School Security Systems


Since April 20, 1999, the date of the Columbine School massacre, schools nationwide have been reexamining their security systems and procedures.

Hager Companies manufactures American-made door hardware products and works with school districts across the country to implement both simple and complex solutions that replace classroom barricade devices.

According to Hager, the unintended consequences associated with those devices could put children at even more risk and the school exposed to increased liability.

Brian Clarke, director of architectural specifications and technical support for Hager Companies, said these issues could occur if some of the classroom barricade devices require more than two hands to operate.

“We know that an active shooting is a tragedy, but if another emergency happens – such as a fire or if another shooter comes in from another direction – you’re locked in that room or building with nowhere to go,” Clarke said. “Our building codes are designed for immediate and free egress (exit) from the secure site out of the building. These independent devices to lock the doors don’t allow free and immediate egress out of the room, and that’s a major concern.”

Hager Companies has a system that can be connected into a network where pushing one button instantly locks down all the doors. There are a lot of different ways to make this type of system happen, according to Clarke, and the best way to do it is via electronics. “While that does increase the cost of building the school, it creates all of the safety and security features that schools want and need,” he said.

Another means of accomplishing the same goal is by installing a classroom intruder lock so the teacher can mechanically lock the door without opening it. “Most every school we work with, we incorporate automatically, at a minimum, the mechanical intruder style lock because of safety,” Clarke said. “Some school districts, colleges and private schools are investing the money to opt for the electronic version so that they can control it from one central location. Many times it depends upon their monetary circumstances when they either refurbish or build a new school.”

Eric Rose, vice president of domestic sales at Hager Companies, said the goal of any school facility is to control foot traffic onto the property. This can be accomplished with access control using electrified locks or electrified panic hardware along with many other configurations of electronic door hardware, according to Rose. “Even a simple buzzer used in conjunction with an electric strike can provide remote release by administration of a locked door, keeping in mind that any access control must allow free means of egress.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.