Sunday, June 15, 2008

Schenley High School -- a 'Green Building' ahead of its time

Great article in today's PG. Wonderful work Vivian and John Allison. Thanks!

Schenley is what it is. But, the option, Reizenstein, has no windows in the entire building. None. Another option, Peabody, is getting the robotics. Peabody is far under capacity. Only 20% of the students in the Peabody feeder pattern choose to go to Peabody. Peabody is working to get its act together -- but. Another option, Milliones, was designed to be a middle school, not a high school. Milliones was already closed. Now Mark Roosevelt wants to re-open that school. Another option for kids is Frick. Frick is a middle school -- not a high school.

Just so you get this straight, the Schenley students will be going to four different locations next year, according to the bone-headed plans: Reizenstein, Peabody, Milliones and Frick. Both Reizenstein and Milliones have been closed schools this past year and they need to be re-opened. Reizenstein would be good to sell. Reizenstein needs short term fix-up investments. And, to make it worthy of long-term school (who wants to spoil your child's next three or four years of their education?) would be far more costly than doing the complete overhaul of Schenley. Milliones needs more than $10-million too. But, it was to get even more if it was to host a move from Rodgers CAPA middle school to that building, as per plans from a couple of years ago.

Frick is like Schenley in that it is a top performing middle school. It is going to close as it is today. It will be converted to a 6-12 high school. Costs are nearly $20-million. And, the work for the fix-up at Frick is going to occur while the kids are in school. Those kids don't get to move out for construction. Rather, Frick's school gets an additional grade while the work progresses.
The Next Page editorial: Sunday, June 15, 2008, by Vivian Loftness

The debate over closing Schenley High School has been long and bitter. It has also been a pivotal event for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, which faces declining enrollment and immense financial challenges.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt has concluded that the district simply cannot afford to renovate the school, which requires absestos removal and a major mechanical overhaul.

Vivian Loftness, of Carnegie Mellon's School of Architecture, contends that the district will save money in the long run by preserving a school of superb design, rather than wasting resources retrofitting substandard buildings to replace Schenley. Here, she examines the qualities that make Schenley visionary.

"Green Schools" are being built across the nation in an effort to provide the healthiest and most productive classrooms for our children. The attributes of Green Schools are many, embodied in national standards such as CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Some of the most significant characteristics of sustainable, green and healthy schools are embodied in our own Schenley High School.

The quality and invention of Schenley could never be afforded today. It should be a centerpiece for the Pittsburgh Public Schools for tomorrow.

Fresh air in every classroom

Click for larger image.

International research demonstrates that increased levels of fresh air in classrooms increases both student performance and health. Fresh air can be delivered in high quantities through windows that open with "cross ventilation," and through vertical chimneys that contribute to "stack ventilation."

Schenley High School was designed as a naturally ventilated school, the healthiest and highest performance environment. Not only was each classroom given large quantities of fresh air through tall double-hung windows, corridors and stairs, lunchrooms and gyms, even the theater could be naturally ventilated. Natural ventilation does not eliminate the potential for air conditioning as needed, or for additional forced ventilation.

Daylight in every classroom

International research demonstrates that access to daylight as the dominant light source in classrooms, accompanied by views, increases student performance. A 2000 classroom study in three states (by the Heschong-Mahone Group) identified 20 percent higher math scores, 26 percent higher reading scores for students with the most daylight in their classrooms, as well as 7 to 8 percent greater academic progress in classrooms with operable windows.

Daylight provides a high level of lighting needed for reading fine print and music, provides full-spectrum light to ensure illustrations and art are seen in true colors, and provides important vitamins and melatonin production critical to healthy sleep patterns.

Schenley High School was designed for daylit classrooms, daylit corridors and stairs, daylit cafeteria and gymnasiums (originally), and even a daylit theater for practice periods, with blackout shades for events.

Solid acoustic separations

Noise control between classrooms is extremely important for student learning, and for protecting the health of teachers. Overhearing other teachers and background noise makes it difficult for students to concentrate and forces teachers to speak at higher levels, causing vocal strain.

Schenley is built with very solid materials that ensure excellent separation between classrooms and support class management.

Timeless materials with low maintenance

Buildings were at one time built for centuries of service, not 35 to 50 years as today. Materials were timeless and craftsmanship was celebrated.

Once asbestos is abated, the solid materials and craftsmanship in the Schenley High School building will ensure that maintenance, replacement and repair costs are lower than all newer schools with less durable construction.

Given timeless, crafted surfaces, the associated reduction in paints, adhesives, outgassing fabrics and cleaners will support student and teacher health.

Safe, social, and educationally rich settings

The social science community has rediscovered the value of the grand stair and generous corridors that support visual connections between teachers and students and groups of students.

After years of squeezing square footage out of circulation areas, eliminating space, daylight and natural ventilation, we now realize that they are critical to socialization, reducing stress and ensuring safety. Generous daylit stairs have the additional benefit of encouraging walking and climbing over elevator use and sitting, increasingly important in our children's all-too-sedentary lives.

In addition, the provision of classrooms with views and high ceilings provide important inspiration for students and teachers alike, including rooms for art and music and yes, computer skills.

Schenley High School is one of the few Pittsburgh schools with multiple grand stairs, with generous corridors and easy sight lines for adult supervision, with sunlight and fresh air to calm tempers and nervousness, and uplifting windowed classrooms for every discipline.

'Passive Survivability'

If the power goes out in a sealed, artificially lit, artificially conditioned building, we have to go home. Today's most progressive schools are designed as a refuge for our kids and their communities, with passive systems that will run even if the power is down.

Images of Schenley from the Journal of the Pittsburgh Architectural Club in 1916, the year the school opened.

Schenley has the most reliable conditioning systems -- daylighting, natural ventilation, gravity-fed heating (gas or coal needed to create hot water, but no electricity), and the most

amazing fresh air distribution system hidden in the corridor walls.

Hundreds of vertical chimneys with rooftop vents take preheated or earth-cooled air from the basement vertically to every classroom, without the need for fans -- a system that ensures "passive survivability" for all of us, and energy efficiency with the highest environmental quality. Allegheny County Courthouse had a similar system for heating in winter, and bringing in naturally cooled air in summer -- technologies that are today being rediscovered.

Sustainable Sites: mobility, safety, cultural and educational amenities

A key aspect of sustainability is accessibility for diverse populations to the school and to cultural amenities that are important to education. Today, environmentally sustainable communities have been defined as mixed use, diverse and walkable.

The location of Schenley in the cultural, academic and medical center of Oakland ensures multiple transportation options; walkability to cultural and educational amenities and after-school opportunities; and safety to maintain middle-class commitment to public schools.

Historic building -- embodied energy and infrastructures

The green building community recognizes the energy and environmental value of existing buildings and infrastructures. While all public schools under consideration meet this environmental goal, only Schenley has the historic qualities that ensure long-term "cherish-ability." Buildings that don't inspire preservation long-term will end up being "money pits" with funds yielding five to 10 years of prolonged use rather than 25 to 50 years.

This is a very important life-cycle consideration as investments in alternative schools are debated -- schools that do not have the daylight, natural ventilation, timeless materials and craftsmanship, social settings and location, location, location of Schenley High School.
First published on June 15, 2008 at 12:00 am

Vivian Loftness is university professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where she served as head of the School of Architecture from 1994 to 2004 (

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ask Penn State what their $1,000 a dorm room upgrade is costing them. The answer is not $1000 nor would cleaning out Schenley be anywhere near your cost estimate. Anytime you undertake a project of this magnatude are variables that threaten to drive the cost sky high. There is also more that needs to be done to the building than just slapping a fresh coat of plaster and paint on interior surfaces.
Having a building with windows does not also make it green. This building is about as green as a '52Studebaker.
For the good of the kids and the city this building needs a date with the wrecking ball.