Earning an “A” in Historic Preservation

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How Morley Builders and HMC Architects preserved history during the renovation of Polytechnic School in Pasadena

Over the past 30 years, only modest improvements had been made to Polytechnic School’s 16-acre campus. This all changed in 2005 when the Board of Trustees joined with HMC Architects and the City of Pasadena to implement a comprehensive master plan to protect the campus’ future. The team’s primary goal was to modernize the campus while remaining respectful of its historical integrity.

The city’s design and historic preservation commission determined three buildings should be preserved as they were designed by well-known architects and especially significant to the school’s culture. They also had to be modernized to meet current building codes.  The Gordon Kaufmann classroom was renovated and converted into a music room; the Roland Coate classroom received technological and operational improvements; and the Myron Hunt multi-purpose room was reverted into a dining hall.

The team also had to physically relocate these historical buildings while maintaining their exterior architectural features. HMC Architects, general contractor Morley Builders and the Historic Resources Group utilized the following practices and methodology to meet the challenges presented in this unique renovation and modernization.

Strategize with Your Team. The project team explored a variety of different strategies to determine the best way to relocate these buildings. They faced one major limitation: the school’s athletic field stood in the direct path of the first building they planned to relocate. The field was often occupied, and could not be damaged. The team eventually decided to roll the buildings onto a series of steel beam structures using dollies with commercial, truck-sized wheels that were similar to a railroad car moving along a track. Once the school had a break in its athletic schedule, the team successfully moved the buildings to their new locations.

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Utilize Past Experiences. The project manager and superintendent identified and solved issues early on, drawing from past experiences. Because Morley Builders had previously preserved historic structures like UCLA’s Royce Hall and Powell Library, the team was able to develop a thorough methodology that allowed it to maintain the integrity of the school’s historic elements. Morley had to partially remove sections of the three buildings prior to the relocations. These missing parts were eventually replaced with historically accurate materials that were identical to the originals. Vendors recreated custom-made items, such as window materials that are no longer produced, and great consideration was given to minute details like door frames and custom-milled wood siding ensure they matched their historic counterparts.

Do Your Homework. Conducting ample research and thoroughly examining the site in person were critical to the success of renovating a 100-year-old campus. The team had to understand and appreciate the design of the school’s existing utilities, especially since the facilities remained operational throughout the project. Workers had to mitigate the disruption of utilities that ran in and out of the demolished buildings. They anticipated these speed bumps, and addressed them as they arose. For example, temporary power was set up in neighboring buildings in case the demolition of a nearby building disrupted its power source.

In addition to the preservation of the historic buildings, the campus also received four new buildings, a two-level subterranean parking structure and a central plant. The school’s two major courtyards were also renovated.

Successfully completing the campus renovation was no easy feat. When the new Polytechnic School opened in fall 2012, however, the project team finally had the chance to see the results of its hard work: a technologically innovative, LEED-Gold educational facility that provided enhanced learning spaces for students, while still serving as a reminder of what stood on the campus in years’ past.

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