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High Expectations An award-winning concept becomes reality By Joyce Chandran
When architects from Leo A Daly’s Dallas office and engineers from its sister company, Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam in Houston, were tasked with designing a transportation facility for the Houston Independent School District, all parties concluded that it was an opportunity to set a new standard in industrial building design. No more dull, gray boxes. No more lifeless and airless structures. No more ugliness. HISD’s Northwest Transportation Center would be safe, spacious, light-filled, and comfortable. “From the outset, we agreed that we would not do the ordinary,” said project manager Paul Nicosia, Assoc. AIA. “While we understood the limitations of a pre-engineered building, we were happy that the client was eager to push the design envelope and wanted to show that a facility like this can be a community enhancement.” The design team’s original renderings illustrated metal mesh and translucent panels that allowed substantial levels of natural light to fill the interiors and large service bay doors to permit cross-ventilation. So innovative were the design renderings that the project received a 2005 Texas Society of Architects Studio Award. After awarding the project, juror Les Wallach, FAIA, said, “Normally, these kinds of designs are just off the shelf. In this case, the architects brought design to the everyday life of the people working in these buildings. I hope this building gets built.” Encouraged by this recognition, the architects, engineers, and client committed to transforming the renderings into a building. The 72,400-square-foot facility needed to be functional in its ability to park 200-plus school buses, handle vehicle repair, manage fueling, and operate washing bays. Additionally, it had to provide administrative offices, training rooms, and a large dispatch center for at least 220 employees. “We handled the functional aspects fairly easily,” Nicosia said. “The challenge was getting the whole environment right. Besides the employees’ needs, we had to be conscious of the image portrayed to the immediate neighborhood. Every component had to fit well.” The only casualty from the original renderings was the roof structure. The original design included a saw-tooth roof to take advantage of natural light. However, that element was eliminated from the built design during the process of value engineering. The savings allowed HISD to plant taller trees and install special fencing to ensure that the facility better complemented the neighborhood. Inside the facility’s grounds, buses are parked away from fences to allow for an uninterrupted landscaped view from the outside. “The county, which had just imposed new strict regulations on stormwater management, was especially impressed by our use of a 56-inch and a 108-inch diameter underground storm-water retention system under the parking areas,” said Nicosia. “That process involved some technical experimentation but our engineers worked it out.” The interior arrangement of spaces and workstations accommodates future growth and technology changes. Even though staffing level projec-
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tions are only made for five years, the new facility will support the staff beyond that timeframe. The facility became fully operational last December in time for the spring semester. The new work environment resulted in better bus maintenance, more satisfied employees, and enhanced staff training, which in turn reduced school bus breakdowns and increased students’ safety. An unanticipated benefit from the construction of this project is that recruitment rates for new bus drivers have risen. Joyce Chandran is a technical writer for Leo A Daly.
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