Chandeliers in the lunchroom? A helicopter landing pad on the campus lawn? Those are some of the strange perks that come with thinking outside the box. Around the country, colleges and school districts are dealing with growing enrollments and land shortages by turning abandoned office spaces into school buildings.
Revamp. Repair. Renovate. Restorations breathe life into old or useless objects. Does that remind you of the Christian life? “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” says 2 Corinthians 5:17.
In Connecticut, a heliport (landing pad) is a reminder that a wooded, 69-acre property was once the global headquarters for General Electric. Today, the site is a satellite campus of Sacred Heart University.
Computer science professor Bob McLoud likes the natural light that GE’s old floor-to-ceiling windows bring into classrooms. Leftover cubicles outside his office now accommodate graduate students.
Across campus, a 28-bedroom guesthouse—complete with ballroom—supports the university’s new hospitality program. Renovations are still underway in two other buildings. But the university already has moved to this “West Campus,” just a short shuttle ride from its main campus. The property was a bargain compared to the cost of constructing a whole new campus.
This fall, Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School opened in Alexandria, Virginia—in a vacant office tower that had held the National Diabetes Association headquarters. With large windows that let in abundant natural light, the building made an ideal school setting, says school district spokeswoman Helen Lloyd. The bottom four floors make up the school. The top two hold school offices.
To solve a playground space need, the Alexandria school district bought a parking garage beside the building and refitted it. It includes a rooftop basketball court. Children can cross a footbridge from the third floor of the school to access the play areas. The whole retrofit took much less time than building a new school.
Farther south, North Atlanta High School in Georgia moved into an 11-story office tower that once housed IBM. Builders tore down a nine-story building on the property to build a gymnasium and auditorium. Other areas required school-specific makeovers. For example, contractors installed stairs to reduce crowds on the elevators. Floor-to-ceiling windows got an added layer of laminated glass to keep rowdy students from crashing through.
IBM’s kitchen and cafeteria were kept in place . . . with some minor changes. Bob Just, an Atlanta architect, says, “You can’t have chandeliers in a kids’ cafeteria.”