Before technology upgrades, old schools need renovations


Burns Park was built in 1923. A school that old isn’t prepared for all the internet, cabling and electrical demands of the 21st century.

By Tara Cavanaugh

Burns Park Elementary looks like an idyllic old fashioned school from the early 20th century. The brick building boasts huge paned windows, crown moldings and alcoves. Surrounding oak trees only add to the charm.

But this pretty little picture turns nightmarish for a technology expert who wants to update the school to 21st century technology. Why is that? Burns Park, like most schools in the district, is more than 50 years old. Schools that old need renovations before they can support any upgrades.

What kinds of renovations do they need? Mechanical, electrical and environmental renovations, says Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. 

The rooms that hold the internet servers should be clean, cool and dry. At the moment, many servers are stashed away in custodian’s closets–sometimes even near a water source and most often without air conditioning.

The servers at Allen Elementary are stashed in a closet and quickly outgrowing their space. The Tech Bond would supply money to renovate old school buildings, giving them clean and cool spaces to store all the server equipment.

“Server equipment really needs air conditioning and ventilation for proper operation and longer life,” Trent says, adding that any server equipment that is currently near water will be moved to new rooms.

“The more heat you put on a system like that, the more prone to failure they are,” says John VanRiper, the district’s director of information technology.

Running cables in these buildings is also difficult. Old walls can be two to five times thicker than modern walls, and they’re often made of concrete block and/or drywall.

“The original design never took into consideration the fact that you want to run wires, so that presents a lot of the challenges,” Trent says. Old schools will often need “raceways,” which are thick pipes that run along walls and hold cables, and drop ceilings, which conceal wiring with a layer of ceiling tiles placed lower than the actual ceiling.

The beautiful old schools present quite the mystery, Trent adds.

Wires that supply internet access are over a sink in a custodian’s closet at Carpenter Elementary. While not an ideal space to put such equipment, it was the only space available, says Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties for AAPS. Tech Bond plans show this equipment will be moved to another space with proper ventilation.

“The actual blueprints, the information that you work from, are not as clear,” he says. Some old prints are literally blue with light etchings. “Modern (building blueprints are) black and white and some of it’s 3-dimensional, so you can see much more of what you’re getting into. For the older buildings, the actual drawings are not as sophisticated.”

Sometimes a school’s design presents unique challenges too. Trent points out Huron High School’s curved walls make drilling less predictable. “Whenever there’s doubt, that’s risk,” he says, “and wherever there’s risk, that’s more money.”

Trent is quick to note that before any of the renovations take place, the district will first take care of environmental issues such as asbestos and lead paint in the affected areas. The district has already identified the areas with those issues. If the Tech Bond is approved next month, renovations would begin in summer 2013, when students are not in the buildings.

Trent also notes the district must follow all legal standards for removing asbestos and also must test afterwards to prove it is gone. The district also takes similar precautions with lead paint.

If the Tech Bond is approved, the district would spend $4.11 million on cabling, asbestos and lead removal, and mechanical and electrical renovations.

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5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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