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  /  Architecture   /  School Building: Rebuild or Renovate?
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School Building: Rebuild or Renovate?

The decision to renovate or begin a new construction for a school building is one of the most complex undertakings that a school district can embark on. There are several variables that can impact the decision, including district budgets, finances, the needs of the local student population, and even the local, historical significance of the school building in question. Although it would be nice if there was a formulaic answer for every scenario, this simply isn’t the case. The decision to renovate or rebuild a school building must start with how either option will benefit the community, and from there, you can tackle the other factors. With Neenan and our comprehensive educational building Archistruction process, we can help your school district evaluate all of these variables and determine the best course of action for your educational facility.

Assessing Your Current School Building

A thorough assessment of your current school building will help your school planning committee determine the needs of your school and find areas that are insufficient, outdated, or otherwise ineffective. This process involves an in-depth accounting of the condition of each component, an estimation of the building’s current life expectancy, and a determination of the cost of replacements or upgrades. Once this process is complete, you’ll have a realistic assessment regarding the feasibility of your current school campus. It’s possible that your school building may have some systems that are still in good condition with many years of functionality remaining, but may benefit from renovations. Otherwise, you may find that the only option to truly benefit your community, including students and teaching staff, is to begin anew.

Setting Your School Up For Success

It’s important to have a clear vision for your school building early on in the process of determining whether to renovate or reconstruct. Once your school community knows what goals it aspires to, you can weigh that information against the assessment of your current school building. Helpful questions to form this vision for success include:

  • What type of spaces does our curriculum require?
  • What sort of functionality would improve our school?
  • Does our community want an entirely new facility?
  • What qualities does our community value (ie. green architecture, energy efficiency, etc.)?

It’s very likely that your current school building was constructed with the same goals you currently have in mind — however, they were suited to a community that may have changed in the years since. How has your community changed since your school was built, and in what ways can a renovation or reconstruction accommodate the current and future community? Once you have these answers and have formed a goal for your school building, you can begin to approach budgeting concerns. 

Dollars and Sense

If the matter of deciding between a school renovation or a new school construction were simply a numbers game, the answer would almost always be renovation. In general, renovations have an initial lower cost than taking on a new construction project. However, the cost that comes with a renovation is that which goes into maintaining an older facility. While the cost of maintaining a facility also affects new constructions, these costs typically come further along the timeline than with a renovation. 

This is an area where Neenan excels, and it is integral to the preconstruction phase of the Archistruction process. Every educational building will have different short and long-term goals. While some schools will want a responsible initial cost to their building project, others will desire to put more value into having a low cost of ongoing maintenance. The expertise that Neenan brings to the table is to offer many options for best finishes, systems, and even how to furnish your school buildings, all so that you can make the most informed decision for your community.

The Impact on Your Community

When an estimated budget has been determined for this school building project, it’s vital that you seek input from the community. In many school projects we have worked on, the school building in question was a fixture of the community, having been present for decades. Some communities have a desire to preserve such buildings, while others may desire changes and updates that can better accommodate their children. Each community is different, and their valuable input can be a deciding factor in how a school project moves forward. The earlier in the process that community input can be received, the better, as this will help to establish a channel for communication between school planners and their community. Doing this will help avoid the disappointment that may occur when an enthusiastic planning committee’s project is rejected by the local community.

The Limitations of Renovating Your School Building

Renovating a school building has the potential to be a double-edged sword. Depending on the age of the building in question, original plans may have been lost or be incomplete, and any past renovations may not have been thoroughly documented. In short, expect the unexpected. With any renovation, there are going to be surprises that nobody could have predicted. 

Renovating a school has the benefit of saving money by not having to rebuild existing components that you’re planning on saving — however, you’re also going to be confined to working within the limits of those components. For example, many older school buildings have been constructed with CMU (concrete masonry unit) walls, essentially creating a wireless signal-proof bunker that is incapable of incorporating new conduit lines to accommodate modern technological needs. Safety and security is also a major design factor in modern school design that is largely absent from older school buildings. Maintaining an old school design may mean that you’re sacrificing the safety and security that is implemented into modern school designs. 

Neenan is a company of problem solvers. We’ll walk with you through every step of the preconstruction process to help you make the best decision for your community, whether that means finding creative solutions with a renovation or designing a new facility that better accommodates your needs.

Making a Decision

Without question, the decision to renovate or build a new school is complex. Hopefully, we’ve shown that both options have their benefits and drawbacks, but that one will certainly resonate more with your community. This whole process is built-in to Neenan’s Archistruction process, and we encourage you to contact us when your school district is considering undertaking a renovation or new building project. Our team of planners, architects, and preconstruction managers work in tandem and walk with you from start to finish, with the end result being a school that most benefits your student body, faculty, and community at large. Contact us today to get started!

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