Posted in projects on September 7, 2017 12:30 pm EDT

Joining Buildings and Centuries

Xavier High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school, gains 33,000 square feet in the heart of Manhattan.

Xavier High School, Manhattan











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TAGS: architectural design, avl design, community, education, historic renovation, site selection,


By Rachel Hayes

Facility expansion in New York City isn’t simple or inexpensive. For Xavier High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school with a campus on West 16th Street in Lower Manhattan, it was no different. Xavier desired to remain at its original 1847 campus, but somehow gain space—affordably—to enrich the education of its 1,100 male students.

"We certainly considered [moving], BUT the work of Jesuit education is best done in the city—serving immigrants and marginalized groups."

—Jack Raslowsky, President, Xavier High School, New York, NY

Moving to an outer borough might have been the ideal solution for some institutions, but not for Xavier. “We certainly considered [moving], but the work of Jesuit education is best done in the city—serving immigrants and marginalized groups,” says Xavier President Jack Raslowsky.

Xavier’s ace in the hole was its ownership of the air rights of the adjacent property. When that property went up for sale in 2009, Xavier was evaluating its space needs. According to Raslowsky, instead of waiting for a developer to start the conversation, Xavier began interviewing developers on its own and eventually optioned the air rights to Alchemy Properties in 2010. In exchange, once Alchemy completed the sale of the property, they allowed Xavier to locate a six-floor addition—33,000 square feet—in a planned 25-floor condominium.

Throughout negotiations, Xavier was working on a master plan with New York architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB). By the time Alchemy completed the base building in September 2015, Xavier was ready to embark on the interior build-out of its six floors—to be named Fernandez-Duminuco Hall.

Bonding Old & New

“The program goal was not to facilitate an increase in the student population, but to improve the facilities for existing students,” says Tom Lindberg, AIA LEED AP, project architect with BBB.

According to Lindberg, specific programming goals for the project included two floors for large and diverse classroom space; multiuse assembly space outfitted with state-of-the-art lighting, sound and acoustical treatments; a floor devoted to Xavier’s music program; and common spaces for informal gatherings.

Architecturally, the goal was to weave old with new to create an inviting, functional space for planned and spontaneous activities. The school didn’t want to recreate its historic building, but didn’t want an ultra-modern or institutional feel either. Instead, the design focuses on transparency with use of natural light and glass—every classroom has a glass wall.

“Our [design] discussions were about pedagogy and learning—not isolation. We wanted to forge connections and display openness to new approaches and perspectives,” says Raslowsky.

Sharing the history of the school was a design priority and was predominantly done using graphics. More than 80 images grace common spaces and the central stairwell and illustrate the relationship between Xavier, New York and the Catholic church.

“[The graphics] are how we weaved the new building into the whole institution. They go a long way toward introducing a contemporary feel in the space, too, and show a diversity of colors and eras … they’re very enlivening,” Lindberg notes.

Physical Connections

The structural marriage of a new steel and concrete slab building with a 19th century, load-bearing masonry one, for which there were no accurate structural drawings, required a great deal of adaptability, share Lindberg and Kristin DiStefano, PE, LEED AP, project manager with New York construction management firm Richter+Ratner.

The existing building’s central stairway sits exactly on the property line, which provided a natural connection and circulation point, but it was also a structural minefield because of different floor-to-floor heights in the new building, and the fact that the stairs had been modified over the last century without documentation. BBB ordered new surveys of the existing building and then checked and rechecked them to ensure that breaking through walls wouldn’t result in catastrophe.

“We had to first find places to pass through, then work out where the connections could be and what kind of level changes would have to be built into the design,” says Lindberg.

Ultimately, connection points were created on the second, third and fifth floors of Fernandez-Duminuco Hall. Because of the elevation changes, a few steps up or down were added to each pass through.

“We just had to keep opening up and working around what we found to make the design and flow work,” reports DiStefano.

Connecting systems like electric and plumbing would have been “complicated,” says Raslowsky, so they were kept separate. But the HVAC systems, although not technically integrated, still needed to work together on some level.

“On the second floor, doors separate the new building from the old, but on floors three and five, a seamless hallway makes it difficult to regulate temperature,” DiStefano says.

To cope, a building management system is in place with temperature set points, and the new spaces are equipped with occupancy sensors for climate comfort and energy efficiency. Other efficient measures include low-flow fixtures and all LED lighting.

“It’s not a LEED building, but we did employ LEED practices throughout,” says DiStefano.

Designing for Program Enrichment

A fundamental goal of the project and a fixture of Xavier’s master plan was the creation of state-of-the-art performance spaces to enrich the school’s exemplary music program. A local acoustics and AV consulting firm, Acoustic Distinctions, was introduced in the project’s earliest stages.

“[We worked] to ensure acoustic materials were carefully selected and appropriately coordinated with other elements of the design,” says Ron Eligator, Acoustic Distinctions’ principal.

The second floor of Fernandez-Duminuco Hall is dedicated to musical performance, rehearsal and recording. It includes four practice rooms, a large ensemble room, and a 1,300-square-foot performance room located around a control room with recording and mixing capabilities.

Eligator shares that since the music floor sits above the condominium’s residential lobby and below the Hall’s multipurpose auditorium, depressed slabs were installed top and bottom to accommodate floating slabs that would prevent sound from migrating. Each room in the music floor has a separate floating slab, and there are two separate walls between each room for superb sound isolation. Sound-blocking windows and doors were installed between all the rooms, as well.  continued >>