As Colorado continues to grow so do the demands on our education system and facilities. In response to the growth and evolving changes surrounding curriculum, we observe charter schools become more prevalent statewide. Often charter schools are left to purchase or build their own facilities. We see a growing trend in schools purchasing commercial or industrial properties and renovating big-box stores and office buildings that are no longer in use for their intended purpose. Giving these, often forgotten, buildings a new life and purpose can be a great option for charter schools but there are some very important things that need to be considered prior to making such a large investment.
Conversion of existing buildings into a new use, in this case schools, requires the occupancy classification to be updated. Schools have an occupancy classification of “E” for Education. This classification comes with more stringent structural requirements that can add hidden costs to the project. Often these requirements are difficult to assess and require review and input from an engineer.
The other necessary steps to take prior to purchase is completing a Phase I or II ESA (Environmental Site Assessment). This assessment is used to evaluate any potential environmental issues or hazards on the site such as soil contamination. The same is true for the building itself. A building assessment should be completed to identify potential hazardous building materials, such as asbestos and lead paint, which will need to be properly abated and disposed of.
In addition to site and building assessments, review by the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS) is required for all new/proposed school sites and additions that result in a change in building footprint. Since enactment of H.B. 1045 (1984) (C.R.S. 22-32-124 et seq.) school boards have been directed to consult with CGS about potential geological hazards and site stability for its proposed use. http://coloradogeologicalsurvey.org/
While it can be difficult to part with project funds before the property is even purchased, performing due diligence will ultimately save time, money and headaches down the road.
Pictured above is an industrial building recently purchased by Colorado Early College in Fort Collins for use as their new high school. DCS has been hired as their Owner’s Representative and is in the process of helping the school to complete building and site assessments. While it is always best practice to have assessments completed prior to purchase, these are still a necessary step to identify any issues and requirements so that we may fully understand the cost impacts to the project budget. http://fortcollins.coloradoearlycolleges.org/