The Facilities Design + Construction (FD+C) department of APS is charged with the repair, renovation, and expansion of existing schools and office space, and the design and construction of new schools and facilities. That is an immense responsibility considering that the school district maintains the largest collection of public buildings in the state consisting of approximately 14 million square feet of traditional school buildings, stadiums, portable classrooms, and administrative offices and facilities. The growing staff of FD+C is comprised of architects; engineers; construction managers; furniture, equipment, and facility specialists; and business support accounting and administrative personnel.
FD+C strives to keep pace with APS' explosive student population growth in the building of new schools while also attending to a continuous building program that includes refurbishing and bringing up to code existing schools, some over 70 years old. In 2007, FD+C headed up 370 projects in design or construction totaling approximately $461.4 million.
APS school construction follows the path of Albuquerque's growth and appears roughly as a set of concentric circles, reflecting the time periods in which they were built. Urban patterns; construction methods; national, regional and local building styles and materials; changes in curriculum and standards; growth and budget pressures; and the introduction of technology are key factors that have played a part in the way APS schools were originally designed and built, how they have evolved, and how they look today.
In the early years of APS, 1920-1940, schools characteristically had a limited number of classrooms (about 13), were two stories in height, and were cited on a single city block of about 300 feet by 300 feet, approximately two acres, far short of today's site size of 15 acres for elementary schools and 65 acres for high schools. Classrooms were generally small, about 750 square feet, but with high ceilings. As both students and teachers generally walked to school, there was no need for on-site parking and bus drop-off areas.
The typical elementary school between 1900 and 1960 was around 25,000 square feet and housed approximately 300 students. Today, the prototype elementary school is 85,000 square feet and serves 650 students, and includes kindergarten, music, fine arts, special education, English as a second language, audiology, mini-gym, and other specialized spaces.
The two decades between 1940 and 1960 are referred to as the Hesselden years because architect Louis Hesselden's firm designed and built more schools than anyone else in the district's history. During this period APS schools were designed to house the initial boom of Albuquerque's growth that was initiated by the ending of World War II and continued afterward. As such, one hallmark of the Hesselden schools is their flexibility and expansion capability.
Overtime as the programmatic responsibilities of the schools expanded and evolved, multi-purpose rooms, libraries, and media centers were easily added to these schools. Building the schools in stages was also due to the growing baby boom student population. The additions, many constructed between 1958 and 1964, however, were of poorer quality materials due to the rapid growth coupled with limited dollars. And the average classroom size increased to approximately 800 square feet indicating a trend toward higher pupil-teacher rations necessitated by population increases and program changes.
By the 1960s a growing number of Albuquerque architectural firms were designing schools for the district. It is clear that the district's ability to raise taxes in response to growth was also stretched. Continued growth pressures were reflected in the elimination of interior corridors and the introduction of exterior corridors and entryways to each classroom to cut costs, the use of less expensive construction components, and a new basic modular design. Growth pressures also manifested themselves in the increase of temporary portable classrooms. And, for the first time there is significant attention given to parking lots, bus drop-off areas, housing for special programs, school-lunch programs, and by the end of the decade, the addition of libraries.
During periods of extreme population growth (mainly during the 1960s to mid 70s, the mid 80s, and the 1990s), APS had to build numerous elementary schools quickly with a limited budget. This was achieved by constructing modular schools that were made mostly of prefabricated metal with an expected life span of no more than 10 to 15 years. In all cases, these modular schools became de facto permanent facilities and became increasingly more expensive to maintain. Therefore, APS began replacing these modular facilities during the late 1990s. Complete replacement is expected to be complete by 2010.
Open classroom facilities were also briefly introduced in response to experimentation in teaching methods. As the open classroom concept met with limited acceptance (with the exception of John Baker), these schools have been renovated back to the classic configuration of one teacher, one classroom. Combined elementary and middle schools were also common at APS during the 1960s and early 1970s.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, the rate of enrollment growth slowed and so did the value of the APS tax base, thus limiting the ability to continue constructing schools. Fewer schools were built when compared to the last heyday of construction, which occurred between 1960 and 1975 when APS grew from two high schools to nine high schools. Schools were once again built as enclosed facilities with interior corridors under a single roof. In addition to classrooms, they included an expanded set of required functions such as a mini-gym, cafeteria, and media center.
However, while fewer new schools were being built, costs of school construction increased as building codes became stricter, electrical and mechanical systems became more sophisticated, and air conditioning was added. School costs escalated to an average of $60 to $65 per square foot.
New schools built in the mid 1980s continued with the totally enclosed one story single building design with interior corridors. The library is now at the center of the facility and a combined cafeteria and performance space is introduced. The average classroom size for elementary schools has increased to 840 square feet.
However, the cycle turned again and once more the district had to add portable and modular buildings to the school sites in response to increased student growth and yet again, slim budgets. During this time, the district also began to question for the first time the long-term cost savings of modular units, generally lasting for a shorter time and requiring more maintenance than permanent facilities. APS began to look at school facilities as assets, ones that either appreciated or depreciated, and began to analyze the costs of various types of buildings and construction for use over a lifetime of 30 to 50 years.
APS added over 2.5 million in gross square feet in additions and new schools from 1992-2005 to address expanding enrollments and programmatic needs. From 1990 to 2004 the district built a total of 12 new schools (eight elementary, and four middle schools). Beginning in 2004, construction costs soared astronomically, specifically due to the spike in prices worldwide of major construction components such as oil, steel, cement, and copper. This factor compounded an already acute situation where the capital program was underfunded, (partially due to the setback of a failed election in 2003); healthy enrollment growth from 2004 to 2006; and a runaway construction market in Albuquerque. In addition, a majority of existing APS schools were approaching 40+ years of age and needed major renewal.
A comprehensive capital mosaic was cooperatively created by APS, the business community, and civic groups. This mosaic involved a tax increase in 2006; school facility fees paid by home builders for new residential homes in the Albuquerque area; and a major infusion of state capital dollars. This enabled APS to be decently capitalized for school construction for the first time since the mid-1960s ($1.2 billion funded monies to be invested between 2006 and 2013). This has resulted in the largest school building spurt ever witnessed in New Mexico (eight new schools in four years and numerous additions, refurbishments, and expansions).
Over 400 construction projects are being managed by FD+C at any given time. Several other major changes occurred in FD+C to address the increased scope, including organizational restructuring, streamlining, and hiring qualified staff. FD+C is hopefully not flooding the market to the extent of hurting its own ability to bid competitively.
The number and value of FD+C projects has increased by 200% since 2005. The department managed 122 projects in 2005 totaling $155.7 million, and 370 projects in 2007 totaling $461.4 million, largely due to the need for new schools. APS' comprehensive capital finance mosaic for the period between 2006 and 2013 totals $1.3 billion with the greatest portion allocated for building new schools and renewing older facilities.
FD+C is opening nine new schools between 2007 and 2011 consisting of two high schools, two middle schools, and five elementary schools (which includes the reopening of Coronado Elementary). Volcano Vista High School, which opened with the 9th Grade Academy August 2007, is the first high school build in the district in 21 years. Its cost of $105 million (built for 2,200 students and consisting of over 440,000 square feet) is dramatically higher than the $456 thousand to build Albuquerque High, the City's first high school, in the mid 1930s. When AHS was originally built it served approximately 700 students and was 70,000 square feet. (These cost figures are not been adjusted for inflation.)
FD+C has responded to the endlessly expanding need for more specialization and the addition of more sophisticated media centers, science labs, special education classrooms, and of course computer labs and the need for classrooms to be wired for computers. FD+C also has to address the long-existing schools in need of maintenance and upgrading to accommodate current student curriculum needs. Inflation and stricter building and safety codes have significantly impacted the cost of building a new school or upgrading an existing school.
Other stimuli have also placed greater demands on FD+C in meeting increasing needs and changes. These include innovations in teaching methods that involve technology; federal and state mandates in areas such as daycare, pre-school and after-school programs, and lowering pupil-teacher ratios; special education becoming more integrated into schools; joint use community programs and centers; increased parent involvement; and the continuous need for flexibility. Today's schools, especially high schools, blend school academics and activities with community function and interaction.
In recent years, FD+C has implemented many cost, time, and energy saving innovations in project delivery:
Prototypical Elementary Schools Plans: The prototype design will be used on the West Side Elementary School scheduled to open fall of 2008 and at least four subsequent elementary schools to open by 2011. A prototype design saves time and money in the construction of new schools built within a limited time period.
Formal Building Commissioning: Building commissioning, a relatively new concept and rapidly growing industry, increases the quality of new schools as well as reduces costly and time intensive maintenance. The building commissioning agent, involved from design through construction of a new school, will monitor installation of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, test the systems, and provide operation training to ensure top-notch performance before occupancy.
Design-Build Project Delivery: FD+C will execute a design-build project delivery system for the first time in the construction of Northwest Middle School. A single entity (design-builder) will bear the responsibility for the complete design and construction of the project, fast tracking the completion of the school by a full year. Architectural design, engineering, construction, and all other building elements will work as a team under one contract.
Green Sustainability: Since 2005, with the hiring of Director Karen Alarid, FD+C has been committed to implementing sustainable features wherever feasible and cost efficient in the building of new schools and the renovation of existing facilities. In addition to numerous energy saving projects with regarding to heating, cooling, and lighting, a few notable features include installation of solar hot water heaters; cisterns to collect water from roofs for use in landscape watering and student gardens; and highly reflective roofing to prevent heat gain in warm weather months.
The department has received a number of recognitions for their extensive efforts to include energy efficiency, water use reduction, and sustainable technology throughout the district. Most recently, The Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico awarded APS the 2008 Green Building Leadership Award, and The New Mexico Building Branch, Associated General Contractors honored the district as Outstanding Public Owner of the Year for 2007. In addition, Karen Alarid was named Green Sustainable Buildings Profession of 2007 by the New Mexico Association of Energy Engineers.
Previous FD+C staff awards have included: Energy Engineer of the Year also presented by the New Mexico Association of Energy Engineers; Regional Energy Manager of the Year; Environmental Achievement in Business Award; and two APS School Board recognitions for energy conservation.
FD+C staff includes qualified professionals in the area of energy conservation and sustainable buildings including a LEED accredited architect and a Certified Energy Management Engineer and soon to be Green Building Engineer.
The new Southwest Elementary School will be APS' first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified school. The school will be built to at least the Silver standard of the LEED green building rating system set up by the U.S. Green Building Council. The certification process evaluates buildings on a range of energy conservation, environmental, and social criteria. While there may be a modest increase in initial design and building costs, the long-term energy savings are significant. And considered high performance environments, LEED schools result in enhanced student performance. The natural lighting and ventilation systems provide for a physically and physiologically more comfortable environment conducive to learning.
Improved Facility Efficiency: FD+C is decreasing the use of portable buildings and emphasizing permanent construction.
Innovative Academic Programs: Small learning communities (SLC) drove the design of Volcano Vista High School. The key concepts of SLCs include teams of no more than 150 students; four core main curriculum team teachers; coordinated schedules in interdisciplinary teams; distinctive thematic focus; and an autonomous administration. As physical separation must be preserved and autonomy is critical to the success of a SLC, each Academy was designed and built physically separated with its own administrative offices and food court.
While new school construction is expected to decrease significantly in 2010, FD+C will continually face new challenges in keeping APS schools up to code and up to date academically, structurally, socially, and even aesthetically.