Renovate rather than demolish

A crying shame is what best describes it. The recent articles for the proposed demolition of the Guild Building (With Pipe and Book) by Northwood School is just that … a crying shame.

We learned of this after Northwood School has been working on this building for over a year and received approval last fall from the Joint Review Board to proceed with a well-deserved renovation for this historic structure on Main Street. This renovation is greatly supported by the entire community, but it puzzles me that it took Northwood this long to figure out the building has non-conforming structural issues. An engineering survey would have been part of a sale agreement for most people purchasing an existing building, or at the very least prior the costly design and approvals process vs. wasting their money.

The articles cite quotes by Northwood Assistant Headmaster Mr. Broderick stating the school has done its due diligence and the Main Street structure is not sound for a seismic event. Clearly, this should be a major concern for Northwood School as children will be using this building. Seismic design requirements are compulsory in our area because of the earthquake activity, so structures must be designed accordingly. But I ask the question, why doesn’t Northwood make the existing building seismic compliant vs. demolishing it?

This building is supported by the exterior walls/columns and foundation, and I read a structural analysis was developed for their conclusion to demolish the building. However, has there been a realistic discussion with a seismic-renovation-focused design professional about a workable effective Option “B” to eliminate exterior walls as the primary support structure and keep them solely as a facade element?

An Option “B” could entail installing a thin “exoskeleton” placed on the inside of the building’s exterior walls and sinking concrete pier footers to support column load. This is common practice to preserve historic buildings and is a cost savings vs. demolishing and rebuilding. In this type of renovation, all the imposed loads, including seismic, are transferred to the new structure. The existing exterior walls are then tied back, even transferring wind load to the new structure. It also would easily allow them to drop the 2 feet in the lower level, as mentioned in the article. However, more importantly from a green building perspective, they are not putting the entire building into a landfill.

Mr. Broderick was quoted in the first article stating, “The fact that internal bracing would not prevent the (concrete masonry units, or CMU) from shearing from the building during a seismic event was an additional consideration.” I would agree it is currently possible, but seismic renovation is more than just installing bracing. The placement of masonry seismic connectors designed for existing block/brick facades, for example, can be easily installed during tuck pointing operations of the block and brick. This, along with the use of seismic epoxy-embedded Fiberglas mesh on the interior wall surface of the exterior CMU walls, would negate any such concerns. Mr. Broderick also mentions heat forces placed upon the CMU blocks. I shall assume this is not heat from sunlight or inside-outside temperature, but from fire in regard to life safety planning. This, too, is easily solved and at a minimal cost with the installation of a fire-rated assembly at the interior side of the CMU block, which could also serve as the building’s weather insulation system. This would eliminate the CMU being part of the structure, removing any concern of collapse during a fire event.

These renovation methods can be found in “The Seismic Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings” book from the National Park Service. The NPS develops standards for these type historic structures. Even though the Guild Building is not on the NPS Building Register, these methods could still be employed. Cal Poly State University is also an excellent resource for detailed seismic renovation methods.

Another comment was made regarding “the village water line that runs through the property may need to be moved.” To my knowledge, it is not a water line but likely the sewer line that is referenced. It runs through the building and services the east side of Main Street. From actual experience, I know this 90-year-old sewer line is very fragile. It runs parallel to Main Street midway through the building, approximately 40 feet from the sidewalk. This line is only about 6 feet beneath the building and would likely be disturbed during the demolishing and the installation of new foundations. This should be of great concern to businesses and residences alike on Main Street. A detailed construction means and methods, and stamped design drawings should be submitted by a qualified civil engineer for this work prior to any approvals. These documents should also be made available for public comment before approvals to proceed are given. This sewer line affects so many individuals and businesses along Main Street, not just Northwood School. A failure in this sewer line could have a major financial impact to Main Street businesses and a potential for disastrous consequences for Mirror Lake if fractured. The Option “B” method described above would leave this sewer line undisturbed and intact.

Demolition of this old building in a tight space will entail a list of potential hazards and logistical concerns. Like, what measures would be employed for the containment of airborne particles, some of which may very well contain irritants or even carcinogens? How would all this take place from Main Street? Northwood has no through access for equipment or personal other than from Main Street. How will loads of debris be hauled away? What is their plan for “Safeguards During Construction and Demolition,” per the building code, avoiding pedestrian-traffic disruptions and a remediation plan for failure in demolition? These questions, along with many others, must be clearly defined by qualified demolition engineers and trade professionals, not high school teachers.

Maybe Northwood School should take a second look at these effective methods for seismic renovation vs. replacing it with pretend faux materials.

James Hughes lives in Lake Placid.

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