The Challenges and Advantages of a Renovation
In Texas, when historical buildings are in need of repair, the solution is usually to tear them down and start from scratch. The demolition of the 1910 Houston Chronicle building and the 1928 Houston Press building are prime examples of this. Occasionally, historical buildings are renovated for the needs of today and this is usually tied to a strong community mindset. Schools, which serve an indispensable role in their neighborhoods are usually deemed worthy enough to fit the bill.
Recently, IBI Houston was given an opportunity from the Houston Independent School District to renovate Northside High School, a learning facility over 90 years old. While the renovation had already been determined before IBI was brought on to the project, people in the community were skeptical. “Wouldn’t it be a better use of funds to demolish the building and start over?” they wondered.
The community and the district had several variables to consider when making the decision to renovate:
- What is the historical significance of the building?
- Is the existing structure sufficient for the renovation?
- Is the existing infrastructure (mechanical, plumbing, etc.) adequate?
- Does the building envelope leak?
- Does this building require any abatement?
- Where will the students stay during construction?
Using these questions for guidance alongside the program and budget gave all parties a better understanding of how to proceed. After careful review and assessment, the community and the district decided that a renovation would be the best solution.
Sustainable and Nostalgic Perspective
Established in 1926, Northside High School is one of the oldest high schools in Houston and generations of alumni did not want to see it disappear. The building’s façade is built of durable concrete and masonry, which was common at the time of its original construction. The community was especially interested in keeping the historically significant exterior as well as the memorial trees that were dedicated to alumni who served in World War II. These issues played a large role in the decision to renovate the building.
The community wanted the students to remain on campus during construction which meant the project had to be scheduled in phases. Typically, phased projects extend a project and require additional cost. Maintaining services such as water, cooling, heating, safety, and security operational while upgrading these systems required planning. These issues needed to be reevaluated once construction began due to existing conditions.
There were many elements for IBI Group to consider, such as the school’s age which was clearly visible thanks to the failure of the building envelope and water penetration. Building leaks had to be identified and located which required time and expertise. Additionally, as schools built over 40 years ago may have asbestos issues, any existing problems needed to be identified and resolved. If asbestos is found, it will require an abatement which would impact the demolition schedule. The team was also working with existing drawings that did not always reflect past renovations or represent what was behind the existing walls or ceiling. These challenges showcased the importance of a contingency within a renovation project.
Replicating an entire cast-in-place concrete structure would not be economically feasible to duplicate in today’s market. However, changes were necessary to meet code requirements and educational design guidelines, provide ease of constructability and meet the budget. Exterior windows and doors, room sizes, and the existing interior partitions were altered while the majority of the façade remained intact.
Chudi is a project manager at IBI Group in Houston, Texas. He has 12 years of experience in educational architecture ranging from K-12 to higher education. His portfolio includes major renovations, additions, and new construction. Chudi has a passion about creating engaging, creative, and safe environments for students. He served on the AIA Houston board from 2015 to 2017 and is currently serving on the Texas Society of Architects (AIA Texas) board where he was instrumental in creating the Emerging Leaders Network. The network promotes the sharing of ideas with other emerging professionals and associates in Texas through social media and grassroots sessions at the AIA state convention.