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At the close of World War II, 2 million soldiers returned from overseas to the United States. Many married and began starting families, moving to the suburbs using the GI Bill and FHA programs that had begun a decade prior. With these new families and homes came the need for more schools. The birth rate in the U.S. surged nearly 50 percent higher in 1946 over the rates of the previous decade . Because of this, there were not nearly enough school facilities nationwide to accommodate this new generation that came to be called the Baby Boomers.
In San Diego, there has been a devoted effort at the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to renovate the older schools built and expanded during this period. The goal is to bring modern technologies and comforts to the learning environment and to have many future generations to come enjoy their local schools.
Older elementary schools in the SDUSD generally consist of 5-8 one-story classroom buildings, one administration building, one multipurpose room/cafetorium and one library. The classroom buildings house four to six classrooms each and are typically blocked by grades. Temperatures will rarely fall below 55°F or reach above 80°F during the school day. In most classroom buildings there are no internal hallways. For the most part student lockers and cubbies are located outside for student storage needs. There is no centralized hot water system except in the cafeteria as the groundwater is 60°F, and the children eat outside in shaded lunch structures unless there is inclement weather.
There are many unique issues to focus on when renovating schools. It is no surprise that a heavy emphasis is placed on the health and safety of the children of our communities.
Drinking water quality
Lead has long been an issue throughout the country in the antiquated water distribution systems built in the past. The effects this would have on the people and animals drinking the water from lead pipes was not well known. The EPA now states that drinking water levels are considered actionable when lead levels exceed 15 ppb .
In 2017, after becoming aware of a possible lead contamination issue at an elementary school in 2017 the SDUSD led a massive testing effort with the City of San Diego. This served to identify any elevated lead sources at schools throughout the District. The District has committed to a strict lead level cap of 5 ppb at all school sites when this occurred.
One result of this has been the removal of bubblers at classroom sinks in existing buildings. This avoids the possibility of lead contamination from existing piping. Instead, focused points of drinking water dispensing were provided around the campuses. As a design professional, it is necessary to specify the use of in line water filters for sink bubblers in new classroom buildings.
Centralized dual height drinking fountains with bottle fillers are provided, usually one per classroom building, and located near the student restrooms. This allows the water to be more closely monitored to ensure quality. The model selected should be appropriate for either interior or exterior use, capable of withstanding the weather conditions of your area, whether these involve winterization, high UV, pitting or any combination of these issues.
Along with water consumption comes the inevitable outcome of visiting the restroom. After fifty plus years of student use and abuse some of these restrooms are in need of upgrades. Many facilities may have been upgraded after the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to provide accessible facilities. Currently, more accessible facilities are being provided across campuses.
Though we personally are no longer the height of kindergarteners, it is important to look at things through the eyes of a child in considering fixtures, child accessibility and ease of use. Architects may want to use wall hung water closets in all restrooms. A kindergarten height water closet is 10” to the top of the seat, and is not available in wall hung style. But, it is available as a floor mount fixture. While we may not normally consider this a factor, for schools it’s worth considering how fun some fixtures are when designing for children. Foot- or knee-activated wash fountains can make washing up more entertaining as a group activity and help instill good hand washing hygiene from a young age.
Whether providing a full-service cooking facility or a simple warming and holding station for the cafeteria, the kitchen is an area full of activity that must be carefully coordinated between disciplines to provide a functional space for the owner.
The food service consultant will often take the lead on the design of the kitchen, but the plumbing designer needs to make sure that the equipment selected meets both local health codes and plumbing codes. These can vary in requirements. For example, the health code may allow a smaller grease interceptor based on school food being prepared off site or have a minimum hot water tank size much smaller than will be needed for hours of continuous dishwashing.
While our work is contained inside the building, the grease interceptor will still be within our scope of work. The civil and structural consultant must be contacted to coordinate the new interceptor location. This will help to identify the area of influence of the building footings and to avoid placement too near to other utilities.
Along with a new interceptor, a camera scope of the building and facility underground piping should be provided at the start of a project. This will determine the viability of the sewer piping. If this cannot be provided pre-construction, always note for the contractor to camera test the lines prior to commencing with the work. Be upfront and give appropriate advice to the architect as to whether sewer replacement or slab removal will save headaches and costs down the road.
When working with vintage buildings there’s always the sage advice to remember: Expect the unexpected.
At times schools are built on overlooked sites that were in need of improvement or were in disuse for one reason or another. This makes for easy acquisition of the large parcels of land needed. While perfectly safe ordinarily, when undisturbed there can be deleterious effects on digging in unknown ground.
Several school sites in the San Diego District were formerly military facilities and these have a complicated history due to property transfers and remediation efforts. In 2008 in a central Florida neighborhood, more than 100 military explosives were unearthed. The property was formerly a World War II bombing range. The first explosive found was next to the track of the local middle school. Obviously, it is important to know what the property was used for before building commences.
If it is suspected that unexploded ordinance may be present on the building site, consult with the architect about providing an unexploded ordinance note on the site plan. The note should require a magnetometer test or other below ground verification prior to excavation. This will help to avoid dangerous situations on sites previously used for industrial or military activity.
All schools are a vital part of their neighborhood. There is so much more involved than just feeding, caring for, and educating our children. As a focal point for social activities, volunteer work, or providing before and after care to support working parents, schools are heavily used facilities that often go unappreciated. The effort made to breathe new life into these campuses will be felt and appreciated by families and teachers for years to come.
Disclaimer: No school sites mentioned in this article have been known to contain munitions.