The Transylvania Times -

Architectural Firms Look To Be School System's Choice


November 27, 2017

Last Monday evening five architectural firms made their pitch to be the lead architect for the Transylvania County Board of Education’s proposed bond referendum.

The school system has several steps to take before a bond referendum is placed on next November’s ballot. One of those is selecting an architectural firm to make preliminary drawings in order for the school board to determine how much money to seek.

“All five of these firms have great reputations,” said Norris Barger, director of business service and plant operations for the school system.

Below are the summaries of the architectural firms presentations.

Architectural Design Studio

“We know your schools specifically,” said Mike Cox of Architectural Design Studio (ADS), which is located in Asheville. “We have worked with Transylvania County schools for over 20 years now.”

Cox said the firm had done work for the school system in 1999 and 2009. He said most of the schools look good from the outside and deliver a good education, but there are safety and security concerns at each school. Amy Dowty, with ADS, said they compiled a list of capital needs in 2009 and with the exception of a few items that had been crossed off, that list is very similar to one compiled in 2015.

“We’ve been in and out these schools and we know them well,” she said.

Dowty said the school system is now receiving diminishing returns by patching schools built in the 1970s and parts of those buildings need extensive renovation. She gave the deteriorating roof beams in the old gym at Brevard High as one example.

Dowty said ADS would develop a vision for the school system and then look to multiple firms to do the individual work.

ADS recently did work in Yancey County, where several schools were beyond renovation. After prioritizing the needs and reviewing the costs for each campus, they made the decision to consolidate three elementary schools into one.

“They had favorable funding for a limited amount of time,” said Dowty, adding that ADS was able to provide the “most bang for the buck with their available funding.”

Cox noted that the average cost for school buildings was $207 per square foot, but the work in Yancey County only cost $145 per square foot.

Cox said ADS has a proven record of cost control, is successful about building consensus within a community and has a reputation for “getting things done.”

Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi asked if ADS had done any projects worth $93 million. Cox said that they had not and those most of their jobs were in the $30 million range.

Cox said the school board currently does not have the funding to afford $93 million worth of construction, so they need to address the funding process first and then the could look for architects to do the individual school designs.

“We’re really sticking our nose in your business when we suggest that, but we think that’s where you’re headed,” he said.

Cox said most of their work done in the county was done at Rosman High, Rosman Middle, Rosman Elementary and T.C. Henderson Elementary schools.


Rob Johnson, of Boomerang, said his company also has done work for the county schools under a different previous name. He said the firm, which is located in Shelby, had worked on the newer gyms at Rosman and Brevard high schools that were built in 1989. The firm also transformed Brevard Middle School from an open setting to traditional classrooms. Johnson laid out a tentative timeline for the school board. In January, Boomerang would help form a leadership team and have a kickoff meeting. In February and March there would be interactive planning and design sessions. In April, the firm would deliver a preliminary report to the leadership team, receive feedback and finalize plans and imagery. In May, they would prepare a public relations campaign with media materials and launch the campaign next summer while providing support through the election.

Rick Brown then presented information on two campuses in Gaston County that had a mixture of buildings. He said some of the buildings were left intact or modified, while others were torn down and new structures were built.

In each instance, the architects met with community members and school staff to receive their input.

“It’s in those meetings where the real solution comes about,” said Brown.

Brown said the firm provides 2-D and 3-D drawings, as well as virtual tours. He added that they have a record of the finished product looking very similar to the drawings.

Brown said the firm has renovated schools that have kept a more historic look and others that have a new façade.

“Classrooms have changed a lot over the years as well,” said Brown, adding that small group spaces are as important as classrooms.

He also said classroom space has to be flexible and natural light plays a role in student performance.

Johnson discussed work the firm had done at Stuart W. Cramer High School, where wetlands were a consideration. In that situation they used school operations and community concerns to drive their plan. Johnson said they created wide hallways with plenty of natural light to increase visibility, making it easier for teachers to monitor students. Kiviniemi asked how much the educational program was impacted during construction.

Johnson said one school had the luxury of extra space.

In the other cases they build the additions first, which then frees up space in the existing building after students move into the additions. Both Johnson and Brown said having detailed phases of construction are important and those phasing diagrams are part of the contract.

Kiviniemi asked if the firm had worked on projects worth $93 million. Johnson said they had worked on small and large projects, including those in the $93 million range.

Board member Marty Griffin asked how they determined when a renovation or new building was preferable.

Johnson said some communities want to keep the traditional façade of school. He estimated that the new cost for a school is about $225 per square foot.


“We know your schools,” said Chad Roberson of ClarkNexsen, adding that the firm had visited all of the schools in 2014 and provided information on which the original bond assessment of $118 million was based.

Due to that recent assessment, Roberson said the firm could “hit the ground running.” Mike Fort, of ClarkNexsen, said the firm has worked on other projects in the area, including the Gorges State Park Visitor Center, the Henderson County Health Sciences Center and the Henderson County Innovative High School, as well as the new Hendersonville High School

Roberson said collaboration by listening to faculty and staff and engaging the community is important. He said they are currently working on the present Hendersonville High School design and that most opposition to the new school there has been from a very vocal minority.

“Our approach is to present to you multiple options,” said Roberson, who then showed some different sketches for Brevard High School.

Roberson said that new buildings, due to energy efficiency, can save school systems money in the long run. He said a building they designed at Western Carolina University had saved the university $160,000 in energy costs. He also said the firm is proud of delivering its projects on time and on budget. But Roberson warned that construction prices in Western North Carolina have spiked in the last year due to several large construction projects. He said areas hospitals, the Cherokee Indian Reservation, UNC-Asheville, Western Carolina University and several school districts are beginning or in the midst of major building projects.

He said that increase in business has created a shortage, which has seen costs increase to 8-10 percent a year. As a result, public bodies are either going to have to restrict the scope of their projects or seek more money.

“That’s not great news, but it is the reality,” he said.

He said the costs of building the new high school in Hendersonville would be about $260 per square foot.

Moseley Architects

Bill Laughlin, of Moseley Architects, said the company is dedicated to designing K-12 schools. The office in Charlotte is part of a larger firm which has designed schools from Maryland to South Carolina. In the past 15 years, the company has worked on 270 elementary schools, 127 middle schools, and 161 high schools. Laughlin himself has worked on 12 high schools. He also said Moseley has been working on the Transylvania County courthouse project and there would be synergy and savings for the county if the firm also received the school construction work. He said the firm has experience with bond referendums. Recently, some $235 million in needs were identified in Lancaster, S.C. The firm helped the school system prioritize its needs and pass a bond for $200 million.

Laughlin said the company offers 3-D modeling and develops a database so that financial officers in the school system can enter in various inflation rates and soft costs to see the final impact on a project. Laughlin said the firm also is a strong believer in public engagement and that when presentations are made, they will be present in a supporting role “as often as you like.”

“Our job there (meetings) is just to listen,” he said.

He then presented information about two high schools in the state the firm had recently designed. One was an existing middle and high school that was transformed into a high school and school for autistic students. The other was a new high school designed for 1,400 students. The latter school was designed in four quadrants so that administrators could have flexibility, such as a school within a school. This high school had wide stairways and locker bays, which are individual, waist-high lockers. With the wide stairways and low lockers, it is easier for teachers to monitor students.

When asked about cost, Laughlin said he estimates costs at roughly $225 per square foot.


PFA, formerly Padgett and Freeman out of Asheville, has worked on numerous projects in the county schools from 1998 through 2014.

Scott Donald, of PFA, said they have worked not only on the local schools, but also St. Philips Episcopal Church, the Cradle of Forestry and the clubhouse at Connestee Falls.

The firm also has projects with Asheville City Schools, A-B Tech, Buncombe, Jackson and Madison counties and Cherokee Central Schools. Maggie Carnavale, a partner in the firm, said the Cherokee schools have offered several challenges due to a floodplain and archaeological concerns. As a result of their work in Cherokee and other areas, the firm is used to multi-phase projects.

Laura Hudson, of PFA, said Asheville High School presented a challenge because school officials wanted to keep the aesthetics of the historic school, but needed to modernize it as well. Project managers were actually able to find the same clay tile company that put the original clay tile on the school in 1928.

Donald estimated that escalation costs are about 5.4 percent a year. He said people in the industry are busy, but not as busy as they were before the Great Recession and that the recession drove a number of people out of the business.

“There’s less people trying to do the same amount of work,” he said.

He said average costs should be about $212 per square foot, but that demolition costs also need to be considered. Carnavale said cost is not the only consideration when deciding to build new or renovate because some buildings have been structurally compromised to the extent they are not worth saving. Donald said other buildings are restored because they have historical significance and solid foundations.


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