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Putting Education on a Firm Foundation

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With its 41-year-old, weather-scarred facade, Long Island's Long Beach High School sits on what some might call a vacation hamlet. Located on a barrier island off the south shore of Long Island, the school is only 30 ft from the water, offering beautiful views as well as challenges for the crew assigned to the $29-million expansion and renovation project.

Photo by Tom Sibley/Wilk Marketing Communications
Weathering the Storm: The 20,000-sq-ft addition was built using a lateral force-resisting system and includes concrete walls, precast concrete planks and masonry shear walls.
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The three-story high school, the only one in the Long Beach City School District (LBCSD), has never had any significant renovations, says Robert Firneis, vice president of construction manager Savin Engineers, which has a $754,000 contract on the project.

That is also true with some of the other structures in the district, and is what drove LBCSD to commence a $98.9-million "preservation program" for its schools (see p. 25).

The district began the 380,820-sq-ft high school renovation and its 20,000-sq-ft addition in July 2011. The project consists of building the three-story addition above grade, demolishing separate pre-kindergarten buildings and constructing new outdoor sports facilities, including six professional-grade tennis courts, a handball court and a football field with bleachers.

The crew faced several logistical and technical challenges, especially when work began on the addition. The structure's foundation sits on 128 pilings dug 60 ft deep into silty and generally poor soil conditions, says Chris Caulfield, superintendent at general contractor Stalco Construction, whose project contract is valued at $16.5 million. On the north side of Long Beach, where the high school is located, the conditions are much worse than on the island's south side, he adds.

Augers were used to drill the piles into the ground and "100% of the dirt was removed and replaced with 150% of grout forced in by high pressure," Caulfield says. Each pile was then capped off and a rebar cage was lowered into the top by hand, he says.

"We hit good material at 52 feet, so the piles are built into at least 8 feet of good material, " Caulfield says. At high tide in the channel, ground water levels rise. Thus, the team divided the site into smaller areas within which the water level was easier to control, he says. For about 5 to 6 weeks, a worker would start two pumps at 5 a.m. that would run for at least eight hours to dewater the pile caps, which contain the tops of the piles and are located a few feet below sea level.

The pumps were shut off when the crew was done working, unless the tide was set to come in after work hours, Caulfield says. In that case, the pumps were left running until about 10 p.m.

One thing in the team's favor was last year's mild winter, which allowed the crew to perform the excavation work uninterrupted, Caulfield says. "We might have had more trouble if the weather was more severe because if the temperature had fallen below a certain degree and the water froze, that would have caused a problem," he says.

"The new addition will be here forever because of those piles," Caulfield says. When the school was originally built, the augers used to drill the piles did not yet exist. That might have prevented the crew from digging deep enough and caused the school to settle, he says.

"The piles were a definite challenge," says Christopher Lesher, senior associate at structural engineer Ryan-Biggs Associates, Clifton Park, N.Y. Because of lateral wind and seismic loads, a stronger connection between the pile caps and the cap was needed. This made the job a little bit more complex than other piling jobs, Lesher says. A lot of monitoring took place to verify that the piles were secure.

Unlike the existing school that is made of exposed concrete, the addition is comprised of concrete walls on the first floor and precast concrete planks and masonry shear walls from the second floor up, Lesher says. Designed by CS Arch, Newburgh, N.Y., the addition was built using a lateral force-resisting system and is connected to the existing building through expansion joints on the second and third floors as well as on the roof. It is currently nearing completion and will include media, data, administrative and music rooms, as well as regular and special education classrooms.

"The major engineering challenges included developing a structural design that would provide the necessary lateral force resistance at the new building's grade level, [which] is very open and features limited exterior walls," Lesher says. The architect wanted the space as open as possible to match the existing building's layout and so "a lot of negotiations took place between the engineer and the architect," he adds.

Throughout the project, the school has remained in session. As a result, the crew is tackling the project in phases over two and a half years, focusing the bulk of work initially on the addition. About 80% of the existing structure will be renovated in "little bits at a time," Caulfield says. The crew has so far updated an existing photography lab and added computer repair rooms, all located on the school's ground floor.

The team is also in the process of creating new classrooms as "swing space" in the existing structure while school is in session, Firneis says "We can't do everything at once, there aren't enough classrooms. We had to stretch out the project," he adds. The classrooms are expected to be completed by the end of October.

Other work to the original structure includes adding exterior sunshades on the east and south sides of the building to control solar gain, new sidewalks and a new roadway leading to the building. It will also include renovating several departments and classrooms as well as administrative offices.

The engineering team has already removed the school's concrete sunshades and repaired the concrete underneath that had been weathered from water seepage throughout the years, Lesher says. A coating was used on the concrete to "dress it up."

Louvered aluminum sunscreens will eventually replace the old shades, giving the building a lighter appearance, Lesher says.

The last part of the project is set to begin next summer with the demolition of buildings on the school's site used to house pre-K students, who will be relocated off site. The pre-K buildings, which were originally used as army barracks in World War II, will be replaced with the new sports-related structures, including the new bleachers, which will also be constructed on top of piles.

"With the new addition, you will have more room for the large amount of students attending here," and they will have the latest technology at their disposal, Caulfield says. The goal of the entire project, which is set for completion in 2014, is to make the school a more efficient learning center and to bring it into the 21st century better able to weather any storm, he says.

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