Urbahn Architects completes $5.1 million, 25,700 s/f addition to BelovED Community Charter School

June 21, 2016
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New York Real Estate Journal
June 21, 2016

Jersey City, NJ 

The New York City architectural and planning firm of Urbahn Architects has completed a ground-up addition to the BelovED Community Charter School.  Located at 508 Grand St., the three-story, 25,700 s/f, $5.1 million addition houses 240 students in grades K-5.  Established in 2012 by city residents with the assistance of Bret Schundler, a former mayor and former commissioner of education for the state of New Jersey, BelovED is named in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of the “Beloved Community.”  The school currently serves 720 students.

Schundler, who serves as chairman of the BelovED Community Charter School Foundation, said, “The great interest among Jersey City families in enrolling children in our school has allowed us to expand the student body by 120 children every year.  This rapidly growing enrollment created the need for additional facilities.  Urbahn Architects, which also designed the original BelovED school structure, has created a wonderful classroom and gymnasium addition that will serve children for years to come.  The design accommodated both our budget and functional needs.” 

“The addition houses 14 general and specialty classrooms, a cafeteria, an exercise room, offices, and support facilities. The design of the new structure reflects the architecture of the original building. It also accommodates the increased flood protection requirements implemented in Jersey City following Hurricane Sandy,” said Urbahn principal, Donald Henry, Jr., AIA, LEED AP.

The original building, designed by Urbahn’s principal, Marty Stein, AIA, and completed in 2000, served 360 K-2 students in BelovED’s first year.  However, with additional grade levels scheduled and enrollment set to rise by 120 students per year, Schundler states that they decided to commission an addition that would not only accommodate the extra students, but also the specialty rooms needed in a K-5 school.  Moreover, while high quality space was important, the design also had to be cost-efficient because Jersey City charter schools receive only about half as much in per-student funding as the local public school district and, unlike the local school district, are responsible for the cost of their facilities.   

Schundler is very happy with the result. BelovED ultimately has spent 1/8 of what the state spent, per student to be served, on a local district school facility down the street. This efficiency can be seen in many of the design choices Urbahn made.  One example is the double-loaded corridors (with doors on both sides of the corridor), optimizing the use of the available space.  Another example of an economical approach is stacking two wide-span interior spaces – the cafeteria and the gymnasium – on top of each other.  This not only simplified the structural design and construction, it also put together two spaces with high noise levels during use, thus reducing the need for additional acoustical treatment, which would have been needed if these spaces were beneath or above classrooms.

The M/E/P engineer was Lakhani & Jordan Engineers, P.C.; the structural engineer was Consulting Engineers Collaborative; and the civil engineer was Derosier Engineering, LLC.  Hollister Construction Services, LLC served as the general contractor.  The facility expansion was financed by Highmark Schools Development Corporation, based in Murray, Utah, in partnership with an arm of EPR Properties, a New York Stock Exchange-listed real estate investment trust.

Site, Foundation, and Base Building

The addition, built after Hurricane Sandy, conforms to the recommendations of the most current FEMA flood maps.  Thus, Urbahn raised the first floor of the addition five feet above grade. Also, the team specified “breakaway” panels to skirt the space underneath.  In the event of a flood, the panels will break away and allow the floodwaters to pass through the site rather than transfer their force to the façade. 

The soil at the site was capped historic fill so the team replaced it with quality fill.  Due to the soil conditions, the building rests on 67 piles, which are steel pipes with 4,500-psi concrete fill.  The pipes are 8 5/8” diameter and go as far as 90 feet down.  The foundation includes 32 pile caps, which rest on one to four piles depending on the placement.

The school originally planned for a two-story addition, which would have fulfilled the schools needs at the time the project had begun.  However, because of the soil conditions, the foundations had to be extremely robust.  Marty Stein suggested the school take advantage of this and build a three-story building, which the foundation would support.  “I made this recommendation based on how quickly the school was growing,” he said.  “It turned out to be an excellent idea, because by the time of the completion of the expansion, the enrollment indeed grew so much that a third floor was necessary.”

The addition has a steel frame and an EIFS exterior system with a stucco finish.  The floors are poured-in-place concrete on metal deck.  The first floor’s façade showcases brick, to match the existing school for visual continuity.  The addition features low-e glass windows with a hurricane-resistant design.  The roof is white reflective TPO membrane.

As the addition is five feet above grade, this means that the existing building and the addition are at different elevations.  According to Urbahn associate and project manager Emmanuel Perez, AIA, LEED AP, “We addressed the height differences by installing a central stair where the buildings connect, opening the exterior wall in the existing building and installing the stair there.  It is a partially suspended stair, because there was limited space for columns below the stairs.  Instead of using a typical design, we developed a truss system on the roof level to support the stairs from above.”  Urbahn added a ramp to connect the two landings on the second floor. A new two-door ADA-compliant elevator is adjacent to the stairs and stops at every landing. 

Urbahn wanted the two buildings to connect seamlessly.  The thoughtfully designed central stair helps achieve this goal, as there is no sense of moving from one building to another.

The site for the addition was initially a playground with equipment and a parking lot.  As the new building occupies a part of the old playground, Urbahn designed a new parking lot behind the addition and redesigned the playground.  BelovED has a lot of local support from volunteers and local corporations.  For example, Goldman Sachs employees created a striking mural of the world at the 14,131-square foot playground.  The playground features asphalt and a rubber safety surface.

The site is adjacent to a New Jersey Transit property.  New Jersey Transit gave BelovED permission to lease part of its property on a temporary, long-term basis.  Thus, Urbahn expanded the parking lot by an extra 10 feet.

The roof houses nine M/E/P units including three main heating and cooling units – one for each floor – and others dedicated to individual spaces like the exercise room and the cafeteria, so that they can be controlled individually.


Interior

The interior finishes include VCT flooring, painted drywall, white acoustical ceiling tiles, and fluorescent lighting with motion sensors. 

The first floor of the addition houses a 1,500 s/f cafeteria, five classrooms averaging 705 square feet each, one office, a kitchen/servery area, storage rooms, toilets, a new main entrance, and a separate playground entrance.  “The new main entrance sits at the connection of the two buildings,” said project architect Maggie Chuc.  “Part of the exterior masonry of the original school was left exposed in the new main lobby to showcase the connection to the original building and also add texture to the space,” she stated.  The lobby features a security desk.

The second floor features a 2,000 s/f exercise room with basketball hoops and has 18’ high ceilings and clerestory windows.  The athletic flooring, by Connor Sports Flooring, is in Rezill channel-01, a thick resilient flooring on tracks with plywood on top with Rezill padding.  The floor features the Owls logo of BelovED’s sports teams, and features a clear resin finish.  A 250-square foot special education room is also on this floor.  In addition, two, pre-wired computer classrooms on this level have moveable furniture and a moveable partition so it can be opened into one 1,600-square foot space for state tests and other purposes that require larger-than-typical classroom spaces. 

On the third floor are five full-sized classrooms and one half-size classroom.  Every classroom has wall-mounted projectors and white boards.

Upcoming Middle School

Urbahn is currently working on its third project for the charter school.  “We are in the midst of design work for a 40,000-square foot BelovED middle school, which will be located across the street from the addition,” stated Perez.

Urbahn Architects

Urbahn Architects is a full-service planning and design firm based in New York City.  Since its founding in 1945, the firm has designed projects for organizations and institutions that operate in the residential, healthcare, education, justice, science, transportation, and infrastructure sectors. Urbahn served as the architect for some of the nation’s most iconic structures, including the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Control at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, and the Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia, IL.  Urbahn’s annual domestic and international project workload exceeds $500 million in construction value.

The firm’s educational project portfolio includes the SUNY New Paltz Engineering Innovation Hub in New Paltz, NY; Lehman College School of Nursing in the Bronx, NY; Usha Martin University Master Plan in Ranchi, India; Columbia University Baker Field Facilities Master Plan in New York, NY; P.S. 253Q Elementary School in Queens, NY; and P.S. 144Q addition in Forest Hills, NY.

Urbahn’s other commercial and institutional work includes the $70 million Tides North residential development in Arverne, NY; New York City Hall Mayoral Offices and Emergency Situation Center, and Public Health Lab Redevelopment Master Plan in New York, NY; Centro Medico Correccional in Bayamon, PR; and Jersey City Municipal Services Complex, Jersey City, NJ.


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