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United States of America
Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep (CRSM) is a member of the national network of Cristo Rey schools whose mission is to serve underprivileged communities by providing high quality education opportunities to students. Their program creates a platform for youth, whose families are typically below the poverty line, to become first generation college students. As CRSM’s previous deteriorated facility no longer met the basic needs of its students, they looked towards their neighbor, an abandoned Kmart store, to become their new home.
Looking past the stigma of a big box, the tall volume, open floor plan and northern wetlands become immense opportunities in the transformation of the perceived eye-sore in challenged neighborhood into a beacon for CRSM. To make the deep floor plan suitable for a learning facility, daylight integration was critical. Slicing the building with sawtooth light monitors and skylights extends the limited building perimeter and provides a critical connection through the building, assuring all learning spaces have access to daylight.
The challenge to transform the blighted retail strip was not limited to the building itself, it needed to address the perception of the building within the community. The building needed to reflect its new inhabitants and broadcast its new identity clearly. The façade now showcases the school along the major thoroughfare of Belvidere Road, as its tones reflect a gradient of CRSM’s school colors.
The expectation of CRSM students is already elevated to that of a college student; therefore, they deserve a facility that matches CRSM’s innovative pedagogy.
Sustainable Design Intent and Innovation
This ambitious transformation addresses the phenomenon of abandoned big box stores and has become a model for the possibilities of conversions nationwide. As an adaptive reuse project, it revitalized a formerly discarded building, which has both environmental and community benefits. It embodies sustainable design as the project typology allowed for minimized use of resources, waste, and embodied energy.
This particular big box store was an ideal candidate for adaptive reuse, as its volume and large structural bays permit maximum flexibility for programmatic components. In addition, the building’s shape and orientation was well suited for sustainable design, as it is situated on the side with long north and south facades and short east and west facades, creating an ideal scenario for solar control for new glazing integration.
The existing building’s low building perimeter to façade ratio resulted in an energy efficient building. Despite the deep floor plates that result, the new design prioritized daylighting and views by creating large north facing roof apertures.
In addition to harnessing the existing sustainable features for maximum efficiency building design, the project also reutilized existing materials in a new way to minimize waste and use of resources, including the CMU exterior, existing concrete floors, existing entry portico and reclaimed equipment.
Most importantly, the project has become an integral part of the community and symbol for community transformation as it washes away its derelict past and proclaims its new identity proudly.
Energy efficiency is inherent in this adaptive reuse project. The existing building’s characteristics in conjunction with strategic design decisions resulted in a high efficiency façade. The existing building had a low building perimeter to floor area ratio, with deep floor plates, which intrinsically produces an efficient building plan and resulting energy use. Additionally, the building had no glazing whatsoever, with load bearing concrete masonry exterior walls. To achieve daylighting for this new school while minimizing solar gains, glazing was strategically located. Most of the glazing for the building was located on the north and south façades to allow for maximum solar control. On the south side of the building, the glazing was strategically located underneath the existing portico to shield the summer and harness the winter sun. On the north side of the building, glazing is maximized which permits diffuse daylighting throughout the school. North facing roof monitors were designed on the roof to also integrate diffuse light throughout the building where the floor plate is deep without access to exterior walls. This deliberate use of glazing combined with a resulted in significantly lower mechanical loads and a more efficient building. Due to the daylighting techniques integrated and use of exclusively LED fixtures, the artificial lighting load is significantly reduced.
The open plan classrooms permitted more efficient mechanical systems, as it required reduced number of zones and a more economical layout, like it’s former identity as a big box store.
In terms of equipment, the project utilized reclaimed kitchen equipment from a former commercial kitchen for its new cafeteria kitchen. In addition, all new appliances are energy star rated for maximum efficiency.
Although the existing building and nature of the project lends itself to a sustainable development, the design team furthered this through integration of passive solar control strategies and efficient systems and equipment to result in maximum energy efficiency.
The new school’s location at the gateway to Waukegan became an immense opportunity to make a statement of change. The former big box structure lacked an identity and had no physical or emotional connection to the Waukegan community. The design build team’s challenge was to break down these barriers and develop an innovative design that would inspire not only its new habitants but also the community, all while meeting the limited budget. The new design projects the significant transformation to the community from a deteriorated building to a beacon of hope.
Its location on Belvidere Road links the school to the city’s broader public transportation, as it has access to bus route on this major thoroughfare, connecting students, faculty and administrators directly with the school. CRSM’s innovative work study program mandates that students attend school four days per week and work at a local corporation one day per week to assist in financing their education. To help support this, CRSM elected to maintain the previous Kmart’s auto center to store vans that provide their own transportation to shuttle CRSM students to their respective jobs daily, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint. This serves to embed CRSM students within the working world, resulting in a well-connected community.
Phase 1 of the project involved renovating roughly half of the abandoned building with little to no site work, as this was all that their budget could support. Because of this, the design team aimed to minimize impact on the site by reusing the existing sloped roof, scupper and downspout system to direct storm water to connect to the existing infrastructure. Because the site work for this phase of the project was minimal, there is no landscaping that will require permanent irrigation. The design team reduced the amount of impermeable surfaces by converting an existing loading dock into a garden area for biology classes, which will aid in absorbing storm water. Inside of the building, the design team implemented high efficiency plumbing fixtures that exceed baseline requirements by a projected reduction of 30%.
Future phases will include building out the second half of the school with additional program to supplement school as well as site development of green spaces for outdoor learning, gardens, and athletic fields. Most importantly, the site development will eliminate the existing sea of impermeable concrete to aid with storm water management.
Inherent in the adaptive reuse of this building, the team repurposed many of the features of the existing building, which resulted in minimal waste and use of resources. The existing structure of the building was left intact and the exterior wall was sandblasted and painted. Instead of demolishing the existing portico, it was over clad and used as a student drop off area.
In lieu of adding finishes for aesthetic purposes, the design team used the existing infrastructure creatively to enliven the space. The existing floor slabs were polished and stained to reflect light. The ceilings were removed, and the structure exposed to give an industrial feel. The team designed a LED lighting pattern that aligned with the existing bar joists to create a playful ceiling effect. The insides of window sills were painted to create a playful wall pattern. The team strived to implement regional materials with recycled content where applicable throughout the design. The innovative finishing of infrastructural elements resulted in efficient use of materials and reduced waste.
Design Architect (FIRM)