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An Underserved Community, a Vacant Office Building, and Active Learning

Bringing a Speculative Office Building to Life as a STEM Elementary School in an Underserved Community

FRIDAY | APRIL 3, 2020

10:45 AM - 11:45 AM

Room: Woodley

One of the challenges facing today’s educators is providing equal access to educational resources by ensuring adequate and equitable new facilities are available to all citizens. Many areas of the country are experiencing vigorous population growth and in those School Districts it is a struggle to find available land for expanding schools or the construction of new schools. The instances of “temporary“ trailers at schools is just one symptom of this problem that often impacts neighboring schools. The need is most acute in traditionally underserved areas which are frequently home to our communities’ newest residents- recently arrived immigrants and the working poor. Faced with limited possibilities of expanding schools in the traditional way is leading to innovative new approaches to providing schools in areas of need. This session will review an emerging approach to providing equal educational resources by converting existing building stock into new schools- thereby reducing traditional new school delivery time while also repurposing an underutilized community asset. The session will identify the unique and sometimes surprising challenges and benefits of repurposing existing office buildings into permanent new school facilities that provide educational environments equal to that of traditionally developed new schools. A number of examples of this approach are available in the Washington, D.C. region alone. This session will rely on the recent case study of converting a former speculative office building into the new Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. The client and design team members will outline some of the design challenges and solutions and also detail advantages of this approach. The session will also focus on providing a successful STEM based, active learning environment for the City of Alexandria.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Why & where are existing buildings increasingly being converted into new schools?
  2. What are some of the advantages of converting existing buildings into new schools?
  3. What are some of the common design chalenges of converting an existing office buildign into a a new elemantary school?
  4. What are some of the non-traditional educational building practices that need to be re-examined when converting existing builidngs into new schools?


  • Paul Lund, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, Hord Coplan Macht
  • Pete Blum, AIA, Senior Associate, Hord Coplan Macht
  • Azjargal (Azuka) Bartlett, Construction Program Manager, Alexandria City Public Schools


March 18-20, 2021   Washington, D.C.

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