Last night at King Elementary, Scott Dunlap of Ai3 presented their recommendation for the new Nathan Bishop. We learned that they will be recommending a renovated building, rather than new construction, to the City and School Board. It’s clear that not everyone will agree with this recommendation, but neither would everyone agree with the alternative. At the meeting, I asked if Scott felt that the proposal was consistent with Ai3’s previously stated commitment to produce only designs that promised excellent academic quality. He stated that he felt the renovation was actually superior, weighing all the relevant factors.
ESPEC steering committee member Sam Zurier has provided us with an outstanding detailed and comprehensive summary of last night’s presentation, which you can read below. I encourage you, especially those who attended the meeting, to use the comment feature to let the steering committee, and everyone else, hear your views
The AI3 Presentation- Sam Zurier
On Wednesday, June 20, the architectural firm AI3 made its final community presentation at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. It developed two final models for the New Nathan Bishop, one based on new construction, and the other on renovation.
A. New Construction
The largest changes came in the new construction model. After reviewing the required academic program in more detail, AI3 concluded that its previous model, presented in April, was missing several key features, such as special education classrooms. Incorporating these additional elements increased the required amount of square footage from around 94,000 to around 112,500, an increase of around 20%. When all of these necessary additions were incorporated, the building size increased as well. More specifically, the preferred new construction design’s classroom wing had to extend in length by approximately 50 feet along its east-west axis. This caused the footprint of the New Nathan Bishop to extend further towards both Taber Avenue and Elmgrove Avenue, a change that was not desirable for the school’s neighbors. At this point, AI3 returned to an earlier design that had a footprint that did not extend beyond the dimensions of the current building. That design did not incorporate a classroom wing along a single axis; instead, it had a “doughnut” floor plan where the classrooms were arranged in a rectangular perimeter around common areas and/or a courtyard, similar to the layout of the current Nathan Bishop.
AI3 estimates the cost of a new building at $38.3 million. This figure exceeds DeJong’s prior “new construction” estimate by around $15 million for several reasons, including (a) the increase of 20% in square footage, (b) three years’ inflation in construction costs, and ( c) AI3’s inclusion of site preparation costs in its current estimate, an item not included in the DeJong figures. AI3 also indicated that a Fall, 2009 opening of a newly constructed school was very possible, but subject to slippage because of anticipated opposition by historical preservation groups. In this regard, AI3 stated that the reversion to a “doughnut” floor plan for new construction reduced its ability to argue to the State Historical Preservation Commission that a new building was necessary for educational reasons.
AI3’s previous proposal for new construction had a constraint for which AI3 was unable to find a good solution. More specifically, the regulations of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) do not support funding for an extra common space to hold an auditorium. The new RIDE regulations are even less generous in this regard. As a result, the new construction model incorporates a “cafetorium” that does not provide the best possible space for the performing arts.
AI3 also tweaked its renovation alternative, based upon several favorable changes that had been revealed from further research. Those changes included the following:
1. A closer review of the building’s dimensions revealed that the previous 155,000 square foot interior area estimate was overstated, largely due to a review of the basement floorspace. The correct figure is closer to 144,000 square feet. This results in a reduced cost of construction and permits the entire building to be retained without demolition. The latest renovation design contemplates 131,000 square feet of “learning space” and 13,000 square feet of storage space which will involve significantly less construction cost.
2. The closer review also revealed certain desirable features of the original design that had been abandoned in subsequent years but were valuable to restore. Many were related to systems that permitted greater natural light to enter the building through skylights over the staircases, the auditorium and other areas. In later years, these light sources had been blocked off for such issues as fire protection; however, AI3 developed other methods to address these concerns while permitting the restoration of the original design to capture more daylight.
3. Changes in the RIDE regulations create new incentives to retain original construction. For example, the regulations will authorize State funding for a larger volume of square feet for a given number of students, if the project involves renovation, perhaps recognizing that this flexibility is necessary if existing buildings are to be adapted to new needs. More specifically, AI3 believes that it can persuade RIDE to provide funding for 133,000 square feet of renovation, providing an additional 20,000+ square feet over the permitted size for new construction. This additional square footage can support the retention of the existing auditorium, additional rooms for teacher planning, “float” classrooms and other support functions, and the wider hallways that the current building features.
4. The final renovation design solves some identified problems and fails to solve others. The new plan for the library/media center places it on the second floor, increasing travel time for some students. AI3 made this space more attractive, however, by opening up the floor above to create an atrium-like area. On the other hand, there is no solution for the problem with the gymnasium. The renovation would continue to have two separate gyms, each of around 3,000 square feet. This compares to a standard (or generously sized) middle school gymnasium size of 6,000 square feet. The dual gym is adequate for instructional purposes, as current physical education instruction often involves dividing a full sized gymnasium into two learning units. It retains obvious disadvantages concerning community use and/or some sports options, such as full-court basketball.
5. The final renovation design can support current educational practices by having a version of the “pods” concept. Each floor of the renovated building will have ten classrooms. These ten classrooms will support two “teams” of 100 students each, organized around a cluster of five classrooms with an associated “team” of teachers. Each of the building’s three floors will hold one grade’s worth of students, divided into two “teams” of 100, resulting in 200 students in each grade, and a total of 600 students in the school. This package will reduce significantly the time that students spend traveling from one class to another. There will be somewhat greater travel time to non-academic activities, such as gym, lunch, certain special classes, and so forth.
6. The cost of a renovated school is $40.2 million. This cost includes site work and a complete renovation in which “all surfaces are touched.” This would include, for example, restoration of marble and brass surfaces in the office area, replacement of all windows and a cleaning and repointing of the brick exterior.
7. Because of the bias supporting renovation in the RIDE regulations and the absence of opposition from the Providence Preservation Society, the opening date of Fall, 2009 is more secure.
Comparing the two alternatives, AI3 recommends the renovation alternative for the following reasons:
a. More floor space for extra classrooms and school areas.
b. Better auditorium.
c. More security about opening in the fall of 2009.
d. Cost difference of $1.9 million is only 5%, and therefore not a critical factor.
e. “Green building” concerns are a wash, as renovation has advantages in conservation of materials, while new construction would save $50,000 per year in energy costs.
f. Loss of quality gymnasium does not affect academic program requirements, and is outweighed by addition of high quality auditorium.
AI3 will present its recommendation to the School Board when the Board meets on Monday night, June 25.
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