Douglass School is complete and the school is open

News—————29 August 2010

This 147,000 square foot former District of Columbia public school building was renovated to serve more than 1,000 pre-K-12 KIPP DC students. The original building was constructed in 1950 as a segregated public school. The renovation needed to meet the needs of a modern facility but retain the essence of Fredrick Douglass Middle School as a community landmark and historic structure.

Architectural and Engineering Design Requirements 


The Fredrick Douglass Middle School was constructed in 1950 as a segregated public school. The building is being leased by a charter school client and will remain the property of the District of Columbia, and required a full design review by the Commission of Fine Arts. The building is a community landmark and needs to retain its history as a public school, but also needed to be refurbished to meet the needs of a modern facility. One question for discussion with the Commission of Fine Arts was whether or not the existing masonry work should be painted. Several portions of the building’s masonry exterior had deteriorated and were literally shedding bricks to be precast each spring. It was an unsafe condition and major masonry renovation repairs were required. Studio Twenty Seven Architecture retained a historic masonry consultant and went about carefully detailing and specifying the required masonry repairs. The Commission of Fine Arts was opposed to painting the exterior masonry as that would alter the historical character of the structure. The detail mock-ups and submittal management of this portion of the project was an important architectural-engineering accomplishment of this project.



Meeting the Client’s Needs 

Programmatic Need

When first called upon to visit the site with the head of school, the design program included an addition to the school. The client felt this was required to meet number of program spaces required for the student population. With some overnight research and a quickly scheduled structural engineer site visit, Studio Twenty Seven Architecture was able to inform the client that the internal masonry walls of the building were not load-bearing and could be removed to allow for greater space planning flexibility. This flexibility proved so great that the entire program of the client could be accomplished within the existing building shell, negating the need for the anticipated addition. This saved the client $8 million dollars off their budget, and they were able to allocate the surplus to other requirements including additional program needs.

Architectural Need

One of the client’s most pressing needs was that the building operate as a campus rather than a singular building. The school would house children of ages from preschool to high school, and the building needed to function like a series of campus buildings to organize arrivals and departures while maintaining the identities of the different schools.  A separate pre-school entrance and vehicular drop-off is provided at the west end of the building with a new open glass main lobby entrance for visitors and guests at the center of the elevation. The elementary and middle school entrances are defined by adding a vertical opening of glass at the stair entries.

Schedule Need

The schedule need of this building was fast track. The client wanted to occupy the building for several months prior to restoration activities and achieve a partial first-occupancy milestone eight months later, followed by a second occupancy deadline after four months. Since the existing building did not have an occupancy permit on file with the City, Studio Twenty Seven Architecture worked with the regulatory agencies to make the needed repairs and schedule required inspections to get an occupancy permit in several weeks. The drawings were created quickly and permitted expeditiously to allow construction to begin within four months of the first line being drawn. Diligent efforts by all parties allowed issues to be mitigated during construction, and 400 students were moved in on the targeted occupancy date. The same speed of construction administration and team collaboration allowed the second milestone to also be reached.


Architectural and Engineering Design Requirements

The existing steam boilers were retrofitted to create hot water, rather than steam, to heat the building. A new two-pipe hot water system was installed along with new radiators, and the unit ventilators at the perimeter wall were removed. The new air conditioning system consists of a series of 50-60 ton rooftop units with ductwork running down the corridors that branch into the classrooms with fire dampers at wall penetrations. VAV boxes are provided for each classroom with reheat coils fed by the hot water piping system. This system allows individual control of each classroom and also allows portions of the building to be shut down when not in use, such as during summer school. Hot water for VAV box reheating allow this system to be operated less expensively than most structures that were dependent on electrical service for reheat.

Sunscreens and shading devices on the building create environmentally sustainable outcomes and meet the requirements of LEED for School Certification. Highlights of the sustainable design include recycling pavement, bio-retention areas to manage storm water run-off, energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems, plumbing fixtures that conserve water usage, location of nearby mass transit and judicious reuse of the existing building.

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