je dunn construction master logo
Thought Leadership
Education Historical Preservation
Kansas City

Restoring Value and Culture on Campus: Historic Education Facility Renovations

Historic renovations are significant for preserving history and breathing new life into old buildings and environments.

The value and cultural representation of historic education facilities bring a sense of nostalgia to many communities and campuses across the nation. Historic renovations are significant for preserving history and breathing new life into old buildings and environments. With some buildings having decades of neglect, these deteriorating environments can have significant accessibility and code deficiencies.

When considering the options to preserve a historic building, it’s imperative to renovate the space so the owner can use it to the best of its ability. There are three major factors when renovating a historic building:

  1. Early Contractor Onboarding
  2. Identifying Unforeseen Conditions
  3. Using the Right Technology and Tools to Mitigate Potential Challenges

 

Early Contractor Onboarding

Owners often must come to a consensus on what to do with a historic building. These buildings, due to code and infrastructure needs, are difficult to keep up. Should you demolish and completely rebuild, do a comprehensive renovation, or do a partial demolition mixed in with an addition and renovation? Often, it is easier to completely tear down a building and build a new one in its place. However, on education campuses in particular, these buildings have sentimental value, and the answer isn’t always that simple. Having a contractor onboard early in the process will help keep the budget and schedule in check due to the number of unforeseen obstacles that can come with renovating an older building.

Rockhurst University Sedgwick Hall

The JE Dunn team worked through this process on a recent addition and renovation of the historic Sedgwick Hall on the Rockhurst University campus in Kansas City, Missouri. During the preconstruction phase, our team worked with the design consultant and Rockhurst University to determine the best use of the building and land. Through many different design charrettes with complementing estimates, we presented three options:

  1. Demolition and a completely new building
  2. Complete renovation
  3. Partial demolition, small addition, and renovation

Through this process, our team determined it would be best to move forward with option three. This allowed the owner to have the most square footage with the desired programming included. Additionally, it allowed the fourth floor to remain as shell space for future expansion.

Consciously designed, the renovation preserved 90% of the building’s original structure and incorporated pieces from the existing building as a reminder of the thousands of students, faculty, and staff who have walked through the halls for more than a century. The new design seized the opportunity to shine a new light on these original features, creating a space that fosters a connection between students and the building’s history.

Collaborating with the contractor as early as possible in the process allows them to dig deeper into the building to find the unforeseen. The builder can come to the table and ask the right questions to mitigate risks before construction begins, including the current and future needs of the building.

Understanding and honoring the original craftsmanship is very valuable so that a new, revived appearance and function do not detract from its historic importance. Another advantage of early onboarding is identifying the availability of specialized, skilled labor for these custom spaces. Specialty renovation scopes such as plaster, glass, stone, and other unique elements require a specific skill set. Owners should be prepared to identify potential qualified trades and understand the possible need to import talent for their project.

 

Identifying Unforeseen Conditions

We’ve uncovered the importance of having a contractor onboarded early. Part of the reason is so they can ask the right questions ahead of construction. Now we’ll dive into the importance of identifying unforeseen conditions. We call this the exploratory phase, and it must take place during or even prior to preconstruction. If the contractor is onboarded, they are able to thoroughly examine the site with a fine-tooth comb to uncover any unforeseen conditions.

With JE Dunn’s experience handling historic renovations, we know it’s difficult to see certain aspects of a building with the naked eye. Also, unfortunately, many of these buildings don’t have the original drawings, but we do know that there are some components in the archives. It’s important to gather as much information as possible about the original building along with any renovation work that has been completed. Of course, no one can tell what will be uncovered during construction. However, the more that can be caught early in the process, the better chance you have to stay on schedule and budget.

Identifying these unforeseen conditions will allow the project to move forward with construction. But what happens when more conditions arise during construction? How do we mitigate the issues while staying on schedule and within budget?

You can plan out a project to a tee, but there are always going to be setbacks, especially with a historic landmark. One of the most pertinent pieces of advice we can give owners is to have a large enough construction contingency plan. JE Dunn leverages lessons learned along with cost history from previous historic renovations and can provide valuable input during the planning for unforeseen conditions. This helps determine what to do when challenges arise during construction.

Rockhurst University Sedgwick Hall

During construction the construction of Sedgwick Hall, JE Dunn uncovered additional conditions in the historical building that changed the design: 

  • Window lintels were all rusted out and needed to be replaced.
  • Building slabs were out of level and lightweight concrete needed to be added throughout the building.
  • The building structure was originally thought to be cast-in-place concrete and later found to be steel encapsulated in concrete which required re-engineering and changing all the structural building connections.
  • Structural cracks and concerns were uncovered multiple times which required shoring and new structural reinforcing for the building.

Through re-sequencing and coordination, we were able to complete the project on the original schedule despite the additional scope.

Northtown High School Old Main Renovation

Originally built in 1925, Old Main High School in Kansas City, Missouri had multiple additions and renovations over the years. The project started with a two-phased addition to the historic landmark. Our team went through the provided drawings and found what they thought were structurally sound columns they could build from. Once demolition began, the team found that the columns were not in fact structurally sound. Due to the nature of the impeding infrastructure, the team had to go back to the drawing board and figure out the best plan of action.

After working with the North Kansas City Public School District and design team, we collectively it was best to demo the entire inside of the building to its shell. In the end, the JE Dunn team ultimately built a building within a building. The decision to go in this direction allowed Old Main to be transformed into a modern, vibrant space while retaining the historic elements that provide a link to the past.

Using the Right Technology and Tools 

The ever-changing landscape of education today requires historic education facilities to meet new functional needs as well as safety standards and accessibility. Having a strong background in historic preservation of education facilities, JE Dunn has the tools and technologies required to meet these requirements. We can now laser scan, graphically document, and 3D print elements, allowing us to better absorb and reproduce historic elements. To effectively preserve existing historic elements, we must first understand how they were originally designed and created. This allows us to faithfully reproduce historic details and capture the original character of a building. Understanding and honoring the original craftsmanship is very important so that the new, revived appearance and function do not detract from the historic importance. 

Part of the challenge in renovating older buildings is maximizing the use of space while maintaining historic finishes. With many complex historic renovations, we don’t always get a full picture of the space until we are already into the project. Technology can ameliorate this problem; with laser scanning, we can determine the actual condition and precise coordinates of building features. This eliminates the possibility of uncovering unforeseen items during construction, which slows the construction process and increases project costs. Laser scanning changes our approach; we can tweak the design to maximize the use of space, and we can renovate at a quicker pace because we are able to plan and coordinate the design like we would on a new building. 

Owners who are considering a renovation project must put a great deal of consideration into who they hire to do the work — both from a design and a construction standpoint. At JE Dunn, we pride ourselves on our extensive experience with historic renovations and using technology and expertise to be able to “see through the walls” and anticipate what is ahead. You may find unique conditions when restoring historic buildings, but having the right project team, tools and technology can avoid surprises and help to develop effective solutions. This approach can successfully bring back the grandeur and history while making it more accessible and usable in the present and future. 

Jeremy Baum
Vice President
Project Executive

related headlines

Projects
Cultural & Entertainment Federal Historical Preservation
Colorado Springs Denver
United States Air Force Academy
Cadet Chapel Historic Restoration
US Air Force Civil Engineering Center
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Projects
Sports & Recreation
Kansas City
American Royal Association
New American Royal Complex
American Royal Association
Kansas City, KS
Projects
Healthcare
Des Moines Kansas City
University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics Forevergreen Road
University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics
North Liberty, IA
Projects
Sports & Recreation
Atlanta Kansas City
Classic Center Arena
Classic Center Authority/Unified Government of Athens Clarke County
Athens, GA
In The News
Sports & Recreation
Kansas City
Kansas City Firms Partner to Help Create the World's First Stadium Dedicated to Professional Women's Soccer
March 2024
Projects
Cultural & Entertainment Federal Historical Preservation
Colorado Springs Denver
United States Air Force Academy
Cadet Chapel Historic Restoration
US Air Force Civil Engineering Center
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Projects
Sports & Recreation
Kansas City
American Royal Association
New American Royal Complex
American Royal Association
Kansas City, KS
Projects
Healthcare
Des Moines Kansas City
University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics Forevergreen Road
University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics
North Liberty, IA
Projects
Sports & Recreation
Atlanta Kansas City
Classic Center Arena
Classic Center Authority/Unified Government of Athens Clarke County
Athens, GA
In The News
Sports & Recreation
Kansas City
Kansas City Firms Partner to Help Create the World's First Stadium Dedicated to Professional Women's Soccer
March 2024
Press Release
Kansas City
Royals' and JE Dunn Launch "Celebrate the Run" Campaign
March 2024
Press Release
Kansas City
Kansas City’s Iconic Landmarks Come to Life Through JE Dunn Centennial Mural
March 2024
Press Release
Des Moines Dickinson Kansas City Minneapolis Omaha
JE Dunn Announces New Midwest Region President
Adam Cox
Midwest Region President
February 2024
In The News
Federal
Kansas City
GSA Celebrates Whittaker Courthouse Improvements
Ryan Watzke
Market Leader
Federal
February 2024
Projects
Sports & Recreation
Kansas City
CPKC Stadium
KC Current
Kansas City, MO
Projects
Education
Charleston
Robert Smalls International Academy
Beaufort County School District
Beaufort, South Carolina
Projects
Federal Healthcare
Kansas City
Fort Leonard Wood
Hospital Replacement
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District
Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
In The News
Kansas City
The Importance of Diversity at JE Dunn Construction
Kisha Bausby
Senior Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Manager
Midwest Region
July 2023
In The News
Multi-Family, Student Housing & Senior Living
Kansas City
Kansas City Residential Building Trends
Jim Coulter
Vice President
July 2023
Projects
Sports & Recreation
Kansas City
Kansas State University
Morgan Family Arena and Morris Family Olympic Training Center
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS
Jeremy Baum
Vice President
Project Executive
No data was found