Facility Fix: A Modern Solution For An Old-Fashioned School

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By Jillian Ruffino

Published in the March 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Kathy Christy

What is your position? How many years have you been in the facilities profession?
I am the capital project manager responsible for the planning, design, and construction of Northwest Arctic Borough School District buildings. I have been working in this field for 25 years and serve on the Board of Directors of the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International (CEFPI).

Please give a brief description of the facility involved in this project.
Shungnak K-12 School is a 20,000 square foot building constructed in 1976. It serves 80 students north of the Arctic Circle and is one of the few open construct schools that remains operational. It consists of two large classroom wings with no permanent walls.

Why was the decision made to pursue this project for the facility?
The District has an ongoing capital improvement program to address the physical needs of all Arctic Borough schools. Over the last six years, the District has reinvested in the 30 year old Shungnak School in phases, starting with a renewal of the building envelope and upgrades to the heating and ventilation system.

The next priority was interior renovations. For Shungnak, there are many advantages to the open construct design. In this small community, there is an inconsistent number of students in each grade level from one year to the next. Every year, the school has reconfigured freestanding partitions and bookcases to reallocate space for different grade levels. Specialty programs such as bilingual, early, and special education have been regrouped annually.

While the open construct design provided many advantages, the school’s open wing construction caused too much noise and disruption in classrooms. Demountable wall systems appeared to be a potential solution worthy of further investigation.

Please describe the decision making and research process for this project.
After reviewing different options, we visited a credit union office building that had recently installed KI’s Genius Architectural Walls. Our project architect, Joanna Croft of Burkhart Croft Architects, inspected the office space and interviewed occupants. The credit union was extremely pleased with the quality of the architectural walls, the variety of interior design options, ease of reconfiguration, and, most importantly, sound attenuation.

Before determining that demountable walls were the appropriate solution, there was a major challenge to overcome for the Shungnak project. The demountable wall system is intended for use in buildings with a consistent standard 8′ ceiling height. Shungnak School has a sloped ceiling that is 14′ at its highest and 7’6″ at the low end. The architects addressed this by designing a grid of bulk heads extending from the ceiling to a finished height of 8′ above the floor. The partitions could then be pressure fitted under the bulkheads and arranged in a manner that provided a variety of layout options. Spaces could be configured from large classrooms to small conference areas.

What led you to choose the specific solution that you did?
There were a number of factors. First of all, the system had to demonstrate quality and performance. The next step was to confirm that the panels could be installed and arranged to support educational needs while overcoming the challenges of the existing building shell. The bulkheads addressed this issue. The final determinate was a financial evaluation to ensure the quality and benefits of the system warranted the cost of the partitions and the desired result could be achieved within the budget.

Did you encounter any unexpected highlights or challenges while implementing this project?
The system performed even better than anticipated. Our teachers are amazed at how little sound is transferred from the corridors to the classrooms.

What has been the reaction to the project from upper management and elsewhere in your organization?
The project was has been well received as it performs as promised. The maintenance director was extremely pleased with the quality of the wall system.

How has the community responded to this project?
A community leader commented that walking into the wings during school hours was “as quiet as a hotel—until you opened the door to a classroom!”

What was the most professionally rewarding aspect of this project
It is always rewarding when you can apply a new solution that satisfies critical but seemingly conflicting priorities and provides a significantly better learning environment for children. The project kept the best attribute of the old design—flexibility—while correcting its deficiencies.

Christy can be reached at [email protected]. For more information on KI’s Genius Architectural Walls, visitwww.ki.com.

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