(Photo by Michael Goodman for ENR)

In South Central Los Angeles, an area long plagued by overcrowded schools, the offspring of a partnership between the district and a state-owned science museum is taking shape. The progeny of the collaboration will serve two needs, as a neighborhood elementary school with a math- and science-focused curriculum and as a resource center for educators and the local community.

The goal is to "create a place where people could get very excited about science," says Dave Combs, California Science Center deputy director for education. The structure, now approaching completion near the museum in the northeast corner of Exposition Park, is a long, narrow, two-story steel frame that is partially submerged in the landscape at one end and seems to lift off the ground at the other. It will house 24 classrooms for first through fifth grades, clustered in groups of six that each share a common room to be used for group experiments.


Directly to the south of the new Science Center School building, a 150,000-sq-ft armory, built in 1912, is being renovated for kindergarten classrooms and to host the new Amgen Center for Science Learning. A canopied outdoor "lunch garden" and elevated walkways connect the new and historic buildings.

This hybrid has had a long gestation period. Substantial completion, slated for the end of March, comes 15 years after the project was first awarded in a design competition to Santa Monica, Calif.-based architect Morphosis. "We’ve never had a project that has been around this long," says Thom Mayne, Morphosis principal.

But the scheme selected in 1989 was for a very different project. Initially, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Science Center planned to demolish the armory. But the project stalled, in part due to efforts to preserve the masonry structure. With help from the State Historic Preservation Office, the Science Center was able to secure $10 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for seismic reinforcement and other safety upgrades, making inclusion of the armory possible.

The Science Center and LAUSD approached Morphosis in the early 1990s to see if the firm was still interested in the project. "We were attracted to the whole program and to the idea of adaptive reuse," says Mayne. With the incorporation of the existing structure, "the project actually became more interesting," he says.


READY FOR TAKEOFF Science Center School is partially submerged in the landscape at one end and seems to lift off at the other end.
(Images above and top courtesy of Morphosis)

In addition to the FEMA funds, the $48-million project draws on several other financing sources, including various state propositions. It is also using "qualified zone academy" bonds, a U.S. Dept. of Education program that allows disadvantaged school districts to issue interest-free bonds. The project has no land acquisition costs, since the district will lease the school from the state. "Putting the funding package together was an enormous task," says Dean Miyazaki, project manager from 1996 to 1999 and now LAUSD director of preconstruction services. "There isn’t any project for the district as complicated."

SCIENCE PLAYGROUND Bamboo will grow in Big Lab (top). Cables temporarily supported tension ties during floor slab reconstruction (bottom). (Image top courtesy of Morphosis, photo above courtesy of Bernards Bros. Construction)

Most of the the armory will be devoted to an exhibition and event hall that Science Center officials have dubbed the "Big Lab." Contractors have removed almost all of the roof over the hall but left steel trusses intact, opening the 32,000-sq-ft space to the sky. Inserted within this space is a cluster of multipurpose rooms that has an elliptical footprint. An 8,400-sq-ft bamboo garden will be planted on the level above these rooms. Mayne estimates the plants will grow to 50 ft in three years. "For a kid, this will be astounding," he says.

The Big Lab also will house exhibits that "will encourage active experimentation," says Jeffrey Rudolph, California Science Center president and CEO. A library for educators, lab space and classrooms is also being built in the armory and will allow the Science Center to become involved in teacher professional development, says Combs. "This gives us the opportunity to expand our educational reach," he says.

Retrofitting the armory to accommodate these exhibits and facilities while bringing it up to current codes and seismic standards was a major challenge. A mandate from the state preservation office to maintain the armory’s exterior appearance made work more difficult. "We had to minimize the impact on the historic fabric and still work around the program requirements," says Bill Wallace, vice president of Englekirk & Sabol Consulting Engineers Inc., Los Angeles.

For example, armory walls were reinforced from the interior. The north and south walls were supported for out-of-plane forces with 12-ft-deep horizontal trusses spanning 100 ft.

Portions of the walls were also strengthened by adding rebar and shotcrete to the inside face.

Complicating design and construction were the unknowns lurking behind the walls of the early 20th Century building. "At every turn we encountered unforeseen conditions," says Rick Hijazi, LAUSD senior project manager.

The team intended to save the original wood tongue-and-groove roof but found it was in worse shape than anticipated. SHPO approval of the roof’s replacement with metal deck took almost three months, says Moty Eisenberg, project manager for the construction manager, the Los Angeles office of Bovis Lend Lease. Lead paint also complicated demolition. "It caused a lot of headaches but it all worked out in the end," he adds.

Another unforeseen condition was soil too sandy to permit slot cutting for foundation underpinning. The contractor temporarily redistributed loads to newly reinforced walls above, wherever the foundation was undermined. "We sequenced work so we could use the walls above to span the load while we put new footings in place," says Steve Burdo, project manager for general contractor Bernards Bros., San Fernando, Calif.

FUSION Project combines early 20th Century armory (left) with two-story addition (right). (Photo by Michael Goodman for ENR)

Removing and reconstructing the first floor slab in the armory was another challenge. Bolted to the underside of the slab were tension ties that prevented roof trusses from kicking out. The ties could not be demolished along with the slab and needed temporary stabilization. The contractor’s solution was to suspend each tie from above with a series of cables. "We also could have shored from below, but this would have conflicted with underground utility work," says Burdo.
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LAUSD and Science Center officials hope construction and design team members are not the only ones challenged. When the school opens in the fall, educators are confident that students will also find the environment stimulating. Says Rudolph: "It is a great opportunity for us to improve science education."

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