A recently completed rehabilitation of the 1911 Silverton School in Silverton, Colo., has earned LEED-Gold certification. Silverton School is one of a small number of historic K-12 schools worldwide to achieve that designation.

Photo courtesy of Anderson Hallas Architects
The $9-million rehabilitation transformed the 1911 school building into a modern, functional learning center.
Photo courtesy of Anderson Hallas Architects
The main hallway of the school was preserved and restored to its historic character.

The new school is a big turnaround from the aging building whose 98-year-old, coal-fired boiler gave out in November 2008. Now it is a carefully restored historic school that consumes 33% less energy than when its old boiler was functioning.

The school caught the attention of The Denver Post in the winter of 2009 when word got out that the students were huddled in classrooms in their snowsuits and hats due to the broken boiler. For two academic years, students and teachers endured learning and teaching in a building at 9,305 ft with no central heat.

In 2010 the citizens of Silverton, the Silverton School District, the Colorado Dept. of Education’s (CDE) Building Excellent Schools Today grant program, the Dept. of Local Affairs and the State Historical Fund all determined that the 1911 school was worth saving. They contributed toward the funding to update the school, with the CDE as the biggest financial supporter.

The school’s $9-million rehabilitation encompassed the 24,651-sq-ft, 1911 school building, which is a contributing structure within the Silverton Historic District, and the 10,430-sq-ft WPA-era gymnasium, circa 1937. From the outset, stakeholders determined that the project needed to create a healthy learning environment while conserving energy and resources. Anderson Hallas, the project architect, working with general contractor FCI Constructors, guided the project through a compilation of sometimes-conflicting regulations to help the client make the best decisions at each stage.

The team’s design adhered to U.S. Green Building Council’s guidelines, the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, ADA and code requirements, while staying within the client’s budget and schedule.

The design team conducted charrettes with faculty and students in kindergarten through 12th grade to give everyone an opportunity to express their wish list for the rehabilitation.

The project team made these ideas real—a competitive rock climbing wall, large windows, personal study spaces, community gathering spaces and the addition of sustainable features such as water-saving fixtures.

Students also incorporated the school’s rehabilitation into their expeditionary learning process. Design team members worked with the students to assess an adjacent historic barn and develop a rehabilitation design for the use of it as art studios.

The aspects incorporated by the team that contributed to LEED-Gold achievement are improved building insulation, a new high-efficiency mechanical system, use of daylighting and preserving views from the historic openings. Building users can now control the updated lighting system and its thermal-comfort levels.

After construction, water usage in the building was reduced by 34% and more than 51% in the landscaping. Over 83% of the construction and demolition debris was recycled. A local construction crew performed the window restoration and interior historic stair refinishing and cabinetry restoration.

There were several character-defining features that contributed to the structure’s beauty and value to the community as an historic asset. The team restore, rather than replace, them: the windows, using low-E glass; the main entrance, back to its original historic configuration; built-in cabinetry, woodwork and interior stairwells, historically appropriate low-energy lighting fixtures; low-VOC paints; refurbished historic radiators and a cleaned and restored brick exterior.

The Silverton School is now a key feature within the town’s National Historic Landmark District, contributing to its ability to attract heritage tourism. Also beneficial to the community is the fact that the school’s brightly updated auditorium is used for a wide variety of local events, ranging from festivals to athletic activities.
The project serves as a regional example of a successful balance of preservation and sustainable design.