Less is more in renovating a house into a school in Davidson

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//June 25, 2013//

Less is more in renovating a house into a school in Davidson

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//June 25, 2013//

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DAVIDSON — A new school is coming to town, but instead of the ivied walls of Davidson College, the renovated house and grounds will be used to study ivy.

And a huge magnolia tree. And even a black walnut. And whatever else grows on the largely wooded three acres at 511 S. Main St., the site of the upcoming Davidson Green School renovation project notable for its minimal invasiveness.

A large magnolia tree presides over the house at 511 S. Main St. in Davidson, scheduled to become Davidson Green School. Photo by Tony Brown

The director of a nonprofit organization called the Davidson Green Center wants to repurpose a 1.5-story single-family home on South Main Street in this quaint college town into a new private school for 36 kids in kindergarten through fourth grade, according to documents filed with the town of Davidson.

The idea, dreamt up by Green Center director Jennifer Jakubecy and designed by Dave Malushisky at the Davidson office of the St. Louis-based Lawrence Group architecture firm, is to retain the character of the home while making it function as a school.

“She wants it to walk like a house and talk like a house but act like a school — that’s is the challenge,” Malushisky said. “They looked at numerous sites, but this house works for them pretty much as-is, but the real attraction is the outdoors. From a sustainability standpoint, it’s very holistic.”

The new school, which is scheduled to start classes in September, will have 3,370 heated square feet of classrooms, offices and support spaces, according to the documents.

But Jakubecy said the students will spend at least half of their study time outdoors on the spacious side and back yards, the latter of which backs up to the trickling headwaters of the South Prong of Rocky River.

Hence the “Green” in Davidson Green School. But it can also boast being green in the sense that it is recycling its premises.

In contrast with its backyard’s sylvan nature and the side lawn’s ensconced garden, the house fronts a busy urban street, and the corner lot near the Davidson-Cornelius town line is rated “very walkable” by walkscore.com for its proximity to the downtowns of both municipalities.

The house renovation will take advantage of the basement, main floor and half-story attic, all of them already finished as living areas, according to Malushisky. The grade slopes more than 8 feet from the front of the house to the rear, allowing for an existing basement-level rear entrance to the home, according to the site plan.

On the top story, which clocks in at 649 square feet, each of the two existing bedrooms (176 and 259 square feet) will be converted into administrative offices, and a full bath will become the school’s unisex adult restroom, the renovation plan shows.

The 1,441-main level’s forward living areas will become a 380-square-foot classroom code-approved for 18 pupils and a teacher with a side reading area measuring 110 square feet capable of holding eight; and a rear room with 169 square feet will be another office area.

The kitchen and adjacent eat-in area (110 square feet combined) will retain their functions. An existing full bath will serve as the girls’ restroom.

The sublevel, which comes in at 1,280 square feet, will largely be taken up with a 200-square-foot classroom holding 10 people, and an attached reading room with eight occupants sharing 160 square feet. Adjacent to those two rooms, another will become a “clean-up area” of 148 square feet for the children coming indoors from a day in the wilds. An existing three-quarters bath, with a shower instead of a tub, will be the boys’ restroom.

The costliest and most complicated part of the interior renovation, Malushisky said, will be the construction of a shaft and the installation of a residential lift — essentially a one-person elevator without a pit — between the basement and the main level, making them handicap accessible in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The upper office level will be accessed only by stairs.

The rear-facing garage, where the lift’s basement access point will be, “will have to have its  doorway walled in to comply with code,” Malushisky said. The school’s main entrance will be a door that opens onto an existing asphalt driveway off a side street. The area on the main level where the lift will stop will be a locker room.

Otherwise, the interior work will largely involve switching out plumbing and other fixtures to accommodate children and upgrading utility and mechanical systems, including a fire-suppression system. The exterior doors, which now swing in, as do almost all residential entries, will be made to swing out, to meet fire codes.

In one wrinkle, Malushisky said, the number of students the students the school can have will be more code-restricted by  the home’s septic system than its square-footage. “If they were on the (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department) sewer system, they could have more than 36 students.”

The biggest jobs on the exterior, Malushisky said, will be the addition of four parking spaces to the asphalt drive, and the installation of a fire-line water meter at the street and a second water line to the house for the fire-suppression system. Paths in the wooded section and the possible renovation of two wooden outbuildings would be left for future development, Malushisky said.

In terms of land-use, the home’s zoning allows its use as a school, but the project requires a change-of-use permit, building permit and site-plan approval by the town of Davidson planning staff, Town Planner Ben McCrary said.

Four Charlotte-based contractors will do the work. Bradley Construction won the general contract, Dewberry Engineering will be the civil engineer, Crown Engineering is the electrical subcontractor, and the mechanical, plumbing and fire-protection work will be done by Refresco Engineering.

“The key to this job from an architectural-renovation point-of-view,” Malushisky said, “is to do as little as possible so the client can do their best possible.”


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