Chicago, IL: The Restoration of Lane Tech High School

Lane Tech Prep 

Known as the largest high school in the entire city of Chicago, Lane Tech College Prep High School is a seventh through twelfth grade, public 4-year selective enrollment magnet high school located in Roscoe Village. Founded in 1908 and dedicated on George Washington’s birthday in 1909, Lane Tech grew rapidly and a new, larger building was constructed on Western and Addison by 1930.

As history indicates, the new building was a beautiful combination of function and art. “Like the old Lane, it was designed to allow the teachers and pupils to work in a comfortable environment.” It represented and fulfilled the school’s main vision, being “to fully prepare students for post-secondary endeavors in the collegiate and career setting by providing outstanding 21st-century curricular offerings in science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, and world languages.”

This goal also includes the creation of community partnerships to engage outside organizations in public education, continuing ongoing partnerships between the school, the parent, and the child, supporting every student mentally, academically, and developmentally, as well as to demonstrating mutual respect between all staff members and students. According to the school’s online website, it is said that Lane Tech’s Lane’s fine reputation is a combination of all these things, described as “the result of a long history of dedicated school leaders, instructors, outstanding students, diligent parents, and the support of the community.”

From the inside looking out, these intentions seem as though they would provide everything a student needs to make a better life for themselves following the attainment of a high school diploma. However, looking from the outside in was a completely different story.

While the school’s missions and endeavors have remained true and with the best of intentions, during the years of its use the building began to considerably deteriorate. Old, decaying buildings have been known to lead to numerous health and safety issues when not recognized and treated with the proper care. In order to be suitably maintained and make the most out of this historic relic, a restoration was called for that included reworking and updating of interior spaces, as well as the reconstruction of some exterior facades.

The scope also included several electrical components and phases, such as upgrading three science labs, new voice/data, lighting, electrical and emergency features. Window A/C units had to be installed which required new electrical panels, circuits, and distribution upgrades. Also needing replacement was all exterior lighting. Equipment had to be removed and reinstalled while all these changes were being made. Now enrolling over four thousand students per year, Lane Tech is finally taking advantage of everything this major restoration feat offered to them.

Beginning The Process

The architects of Bauer Latoza Studio knew what they were getting into with the Lane Tech project, but that didn’t mean it was not going to be a challenge. The firm has had ample experience with projects like this, and has managed and designed for the renovation, restoration, and new additions of more than three hundred buildings in the Chicago Public School system. When they began the six hundred thousand square foot renovation that was originally constructed in 1930, they planned to maintain its Tudor Gothic style. But more importantly they made a plan to improve the safety for any student, teacher, and visitor at Lane Tech.

Details are key when it comes to preparing construction work for an existing building as large as Lane Tech. An interview with Kirk Sippel, Associate at Bauer Latoza Studio unveils his beginning of this restoration experience. When asked to talk through the initial inspection and drawings, he explained, “it was about four years ago when we first went on site and we realized very quickly just how large of a project it was. The size of the building was very overwhelming at first. We had to have a plan, so it started with some initial visits out there. We had to confirm existing conditions and make sure we had it drawn correctly.”

“One of the first things that were concerning,” Sippel says, ”were big sections of the building that were tarped over or on temporary stabilization repairs. A lot of that was on the North side over by the gymnasium, so there were portions we couldn’t even see at that point… which made doing the survey work a little more difficult. It was really a matter of going out there and doing a quick as-built drawing so we could show each piece of terracotta on the building so that we could identify which pieces had to come off and what pieces could remain, as well as which ones could be repaired versus which ones could be replaced. I don’t recall the number of pieces specifically, but there were thousands and thousands of pieces and notes that we had to sift through to get that document together.”

Working With What You’ve Got…

It is typical that drawings will be acquired for existing buildings needing restoration or renovation work in order for the architect to understand the building better. Getting to know the building inside and out will help identify where problem areas may occur.

In regards to Lane Tech, Sippel touched upon the common anomaly of dealing with the unexpected by explaining, “with a lot of the schools, we usually have the original drawings to help with structural elements so we’ll know what we have to work with as far as support angles and stuff like that. We did have some of that for this building, but there were big sections of original drawings we did nothave for both the third floor and roof level. We had to work around that to look at other floors and how things were constructed. To try to get a complete picture indicated in the document was challenging, because of all the different elevations and all the conditions. There are some patterns that we were able to pick up on and follow through, but then we would always get anomalies or things would change.”

For any existing building work, this is probably the most common situation that those involved in the project will find themselves in. Sippel says, “things wouldn’t always be the same on one side of the building and the other. So we really had to think about a lot of the details and scopes to make sure we were providing as accurate a drawing as we could.” Nearly any architect can surely relate to this dilemma.

To overcome the aforementioned conditions, Bauer Latoza had about six people working on the project to make site visits and divide up work on the elevations. Sippel oversaw the job to keep track of progress, help identify spalls, cracks, etc., and to make sure it stayed consistent with everyone involved.

… And The Right Team 

In Bauer Latoza Studio’s over twenty years of experience with Chicago Public Schools, great relationships were developed with other companies. Tom Vacala, Vice President of Operations at Restore Masonry speaks of the architecture firm with high regards. “Bauer Latoza has built a good rapport with CPS and the details they put together and the knowledge they have in-house from years and years of experience… not only on schools but on historical building throughout Chicago area, landmark buildings as well.”

The two companies have worked on multiple projects over the years, and together they represent the kind of professional relationship that maintains a positive workflow with trust and expertise. Vacala claims, “they have a great rapport, there’s a reason why CPS picks them and we, as masons love to team up with them. We get a chance to work hand-in-in-hand with experts in this field and we are both passionate about what we do, but we feed off each other and learn from each other as well. That team effort we have, it’s incredible. We haven’t worked with other architects where we get this type of feel and passion together… the bond that we have when doing projects.”

These two companies make similar claims when working with Nathan Karaway, Vice President of Architectural Sales at Illinois Brick Company, Inc. Karaway was highly involved with the brick matching of the Lane Tech restoration. He says that these types of projects typically involve visiting the site numerous times to complete an assessment of the brick based on characteristics like size and texture. Then an array of manufacturers must be considered, because some have more capabilities than others and come from different clay pits across the nation. Karaway knew that the brick for the Lane Tech project was going to be a custom texture, blend and size created specifically to match the existing bricks.

Being able to rely on other professionals in the same field of work is what makes for a more seamless process. Vacala describes his own professional relationship with Karaway and how important the brick matching was to this particular project, “Nathan from Illinois Brick has a wealth of knowledge on making bricks and the history of them. I’ve come to lean on him a lot with new projects to just get feedback from him. With this project they literally had to give us samples, when they stamped that face with a bark-like finish and then smeared it on the face. It was just a unique way of making a material. This was brick that was custom made for this project. The blend of colors that was custom made for this building… he did a lot of work behind the scene to get it done.”

Design Priorities 

“I want to talk more about the design aspect for this project,” Vacala goes on to explain other high level priorities of the design. “When they initially put this scope of work together, some areas around the school had mesh or wire covering a temporary fix or stabilization simply to hold it off and keep it safe until work begun. Kirk and his team weren’t always able to get their eyes on it to be able to see what was going on in those situations, so what we did early on was to try to attack typical scope of work throughout the entire building… doing mockup sample openings and exposing different areas to see what is happening behind the scenes. Whether it was steel rusting or terracotta they couldn’t get their eyes on, and once we opened it up, even though the face of the terracotta looked perfect the supporting back piece was cracked and it wasn’t solid anymore. It had no type of tie or barring anymore. The back of the piece would still be engaged while the front seemed to be wedged in there.”

“Whenever we uncover an unforeseen condition and we had a timeframe to keep to, we had to take that condition and come up with a repair solution, a payment, and have all parties involved to approve it so we could proceed with the work without tying up scaffold time, our schedule, or leaving anything exposed that is a safety hazard. As a team, we put together a plan where we were able to identify problems on the job and then setup a meeting with Kirk’s team within hours sometimes or the very next day at the latest. They had at some point structural engineers on the team as well, and we would look at the conditions. There were times within hours they would approve it and proceed with the repair. So it was collectively a team effort which so important for a job of this magnitude; it went smoother than expected.”

“We’ve done a lot this type of work over the years so we’re very familiar with this building type as well as the conditions we run into.” Sippel adds. “A lot of times we’ll look at the wall and the terracotta on a particular bay is spalling and cracked, but you’ll go twenty feet down and all that terracotta will look fine, and it’s even the same wall construction as the wall that’s in poor shape. I think what we’ve learned over the years, is that when you don’t see damage on the front face of the terracotta, but you know there’s water in the wall you can expect to see the backside of that terracotta to be in poor condition. You can expect to see damaged steel, and we anticipated those kinds of things in the design, that’s why we’re able to be ready and on call for when these things opened up we could attack them. We needed to get the information without disrupting the flow of work in terms of heavy mobilization and workload that happens in the summertime. Those periods when the kids weren’t there, we really need to use every moment of the day it seemed like so we were really trying to accommodate that on the design side to make it go through.”

This ability to have separately skilled teams working as one has enabled the Lane Tech school renovation to be developed thoroughly and safely, taking all possibilities into consideration. Sippel commenting about completing as much construction as possible when the kids were not in school during the summer. Shows the high concern for safety which also made it easier to expedite the process.

The End Goal

At the end of the day, this team collaboration to make sure every aspect of the project was done to the best of everyone’s ability was essential to its overall success. Vacala ends the interview with another story from the Lane Tech project.

He says, “this team was an amazing team to make this project happen in the timeframe that we did. Another thing I want to touch on was the existing steel that no one would’ve been able to foresee, and how we had to track and get approval on. We identified where those locations were on a daily basis, and when we came across steel that information was put on paper, on the internet or through email or to relay to the architects. It was important to get as-built drawings recorded to CPS. This was tracked hourly on a day-to-day basis, using very unique techniques we put together as a team.”

With leaky roofs and skylights, crumbling masonry walls, broken terracotta and the hassle of finding existing structure, restoring Lane Tech was certainly a challenging hurdle… but in a short seventeen-month timeframe, this $52-million-dollar project saw companies working together cohesively to overcome all its obstacles. Safety and history prevailed in this renovation endeavor, and so many expectations for future use of the building were met along the way. It is believed this was made possible because of the teams that functioned so well together. Vacala end the interview with two simple phrases,

“We learned a lot from it. We’ve really grown from that job alone.”

Words: Megan Rajner
Photos: Restore Masonry LLC