The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 07, 2012

Old and new school buildings revitalize academic campus

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

FLINT – The timing proved just right for coordinated moves by the Michigan School for the Deaf and Powers Catholic High School, resulting in the renovation of an iconic school building, construction of new or renovated educational space for both schools, and a revitalized 67-acre educational campus.

In September , about 150 School for the Deaf students moved into their newly constructed 80,000-square-foot, 26-classroom building, fulfilling their wish for modern classroom and administrative space. The new school is on the same campus as the iconic building the school once inhabited – four-story Fay Hall – which has graced the property since 1913.

At the start of the 2013 school year, Powers students will be moving into a renovated Fay Hall, as well as an adjacent, newly constructed expansion, as part of a desire by that school to move to improved classroom spaces on a campus in Genesee County that’s more easily accessible to the student population.

General contractor Siwek Construction managed the completed School for the Deaf construction, as well as the ongoing new construction and renovation work for Powers.  About 50 Hardhats are currently on the job.

“So far, no surprises, surprisingly enough,” said Siwek Project Supt. Chad Jones. “Things are going well. Fay Hall is a 100-year-old building that’s built very, very solid.  It has two-foot-thick brick walls, and very little structural steel. We’ve opened up some interior partitions but we haven’t really found anything we didn’t expect. And with the additions, the soil has been great, and we didn’t find anything underground that hadn’t previously been identified.”

The campus that will host the two schools is located just north of I-69 at the Hammerberg Rd. exit.  Construction activity, which will total about $36 million, has been ongoing at the campus for the last two-and-a-half years. Last month, a significant amount of work was going on at Fay Hall, whose interior still has much of its original plaster and ornate woodwork. The trades are installing new HVAC, new electrical, and flooring as they transform the interior into a modern educational environment.  Spray foam insulation that’s being placed in the walls should cut down on utility costs.

Behind Fay Hall, two large buildings were demolished in preparation for the new construction, which includes a new gymnasium and auditorium. Last month, masons were building walls for those structures.  Beyond them, new athletic fields and related facilities will be built. Powers Catholic will also get new space for the addition of a library, chapel, kitchen and lunch facilities.

Fay Hall hadn’t been used as an educational facility since an independent college preparatory school left in 2006. The School for the Deaf in the recent past had been using a now-demolished building on the campus. When private developers struck the deal in 2010 to purchase the campus from the State of Michigan for $1.3 million, the agreement stipulated that the new school for the deaf be constructed, and that part of the campus be leased back to the state for $2 million per year.

Powers School is planning on moving from their current location in Mt. Morris Township, which they sold. “This campus that’s being renovated, redesigned and restored will, in my opinion, stand as one of the greatest secondary education institutions in the state of Michigan,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling told M-Live at the new Powers High School groundbreaking. “I see your commitment and this school as an anchor in our community.”

Four-story Fay Hall certainly anchors the site at West Court Street and Miller Road. The 68,000-square-foot building is situated on a rise in the land, and towers over the area. It’s named for Rev. Barnabas Maynard Fay, the principal when the school first opened to students in 1854 as the Michigan Asylum for Educating the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind.

“This building, the deaf alumni people, we look at that as our landmark,” Freida Morrison, president of the Michigan School for the Deaf Alumni Association, said through an interpreter to MLive. “It’s a great building.”

The American Institute of Architects’ Guide to Flint Architecture said the building was originally a classroom-dormitory for students at the Michigan School for the Deaf, replacing an earlier building which had burned. “Made of brick and stone trims and tile roof, the design of this structure was influenced by the Federal and Greek revival styles. The position of this majestic structure set back along the long wooded drive adds to the sense of grandeur the hall conveys.”

Structurally, Jones said the building is in good shape. He said the exterior masonry façade will undergo renovation, but window replacement will be a future project. Hazardous materials, he said, had for the most part been previously abated in projects undertaken when the state owned the building.

“The School for the Deaf project went well, and we’re on schedule here,” Jones said. “The trades have been doing a great job.”

NEARLY A CENTURY OLD, Fay Hall is being transformed by Siwek Construction, its subcontractors and the building trades into a new building for Powers Catholic High School in Flint. For most of its life the building served as home to the Michigan School for the Deaf.

PULLING WIRE in a first floor mechanical room at Fay Hall is John Medbery of IBEW Local 948, working for Goyette.

WORKING ON A GAS PIPE inside Fay Hall in what will be a science lab for Powers High School is Bob Eremia of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 370. He’s working for Goyette. You won’t see floor systems like this very often: in between the lumber joists is a layer of concrete, for an extra measure of support or perhaps for fireproofing.