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Unknowns Hamper Renovation of 100-Year-Old Building

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A historical renovation is nearing completion in Houston. Skanska USA is doing $35 million in work to update and restore the Houston Community College System’s San Jacinto Memorial Building, which was originally built in phases between 1914 and 1936.

Photo courtesy of Skanska USA
Houston Community College Systems San Jacinto Memorial Building was originally built in phases between 1914 and 1936.
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“Houston Community College put this job out through a request for qualifications more than two years ago, and then they took about a year to make a decision so construction could get started,” says Ronnie Howe, senior vice president for Skanska USA. “The demo started July 2012 and we started the exterior restoration around November 2012 and then the finish out, the build out of the interior of the building back in December 2012.”

But completing the renovation work proved to be extremely challenging for the project team, as they encountered many unknowns as work progressed, requiring a change in tactics as new obstacles arose.

“We had to investigate some of the structure, the foundations, some of the beams and peters under the building to make sure that once we demoed everything, reconfiguring everything would meet the structural tolerances needed for the building,” says JP Chandler, project executive for Skanska. “A lot of the exterior coatings of the building had been coated several times over with elastomeric coatings, different paintings, and that had to come off all the way around and be completely restored back to the original stone.”

During demolition, the team made a wide range of discoveries, many of which had to be handled before construction could continue.

“Of course you don’t know what’s underground – there were some storage tanks, there was a huge swimming pool and we had to do a lot of drilling and figure out how exactly underneath there, what kinds of voids or pockets might be from the water that might have infiltrated out of that pool,” Chandler says. “Some of those things were very thought out and really impacted a lot of the schedule and it was really hard for us to pinpoint on the budget until we got into the building and really started working on it.”

However, careful collaboration with the design team and structural engineers kept work moving forward.

“We actually encountered hidden, original windows during demolition. So as part of the design as we went forward, we restored those windows and left them in place,” Howe says. Interior walls were taken down only to find other walls behind the first – some still complete with hallway lockers.

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