PJHM: Experience With Historical School Buildings


PJHM Architect’s experience with historically significant school buildings is long and varied – initially beginning with Newport Harbor High School for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in the early 1970’s to more recently completing the restorations on Huntington Beach High School campus, along with many others in the interim.

Currently, PJHM Architects is involved with the Hemet Unified School District, Jefferson School District, Norris School District, and Fillmore School District on their historically significant projects with different sets of needs and goals.

ABOVE: The existing pictures of the Sespe Elementary Theater in the Fillmore Unified School District. PJHM Architects has just begun the Re-purposing and Modernization project.



While older buildings are often characterized as more imperfect than new construction, the quality of their materials and underlying structure usually are far superior to modern building materials and methods. Because of the rising costs of both materials and labor and the decreasing pool of skilled craftsmen, existing structures can provide a very credible alternative for new school facilities. Additionally, they often provide a head start on the construction process because much of the planned facility is on an existing foundation and already under-roof.

We are accustomed to thinking of buildings as mass consumers of energy, but they are also vast repositories of energy. It takes energy to extract and manufacture building materials, more energy to transport them to a construction site, and even more energy to assemble them into a building.

The common perception is that historic buildings are energy sieves, and that the environmental costs of demolition and new construction are far outweighed by the energy saved by the operation of more energy efficient buildings. Yet research reveals that there are major environmental impacts associated with demolition and new construction. Reusing buildings and reinvesting in older and historic neighborhoods offer a means of avoiding these negative impacts.

Furthermore, research suggests that many historic and older buildings are actually more energy efficient than buildings of more recent vintage because of their site sensitivity, quality of construction, and use of passive heating and cooling. Nonetheless, the energy efficiency of many older and historic buildings can and should be improved through retrofits. An increasing number of green historic rehabilitation projects demonstrate that these retrofits can be undertaken with the utmost respect for the unique character of historic buildings.

While demolition presents an enormous challenge for those concerned with retaining community character, they also present environmental concerns. This is motivated not only by an interest in historic preservation, but also by concerns about landfill waste and reducing the negative environmental impacts associated with new construction.

Reinvestment in older and historic sites also has numerous environmental benefits. Older and historic sites tend to be centrally located, dense, walkable, and are often mass-transit accessible – qualities promoted by smart growth advocates. Reinvestment in these locations also preserves the energy expended in creating the existing infrastructure, such as roads, water systems and sewer lines.

Retrofits of historic buildings can and should be undertaken to extend building life and better capture the energy savings available through newer technologies. Finally, respect for our existing built environment is an important component of sustainability strategy.



Hemet Elementary School, a historic building constructed in the late 1920s, is PJHM’s most recent experience with seismic retrofit. PJHM Architects completed, along with our structural engineer, Thornton Tomasetti, architectural, engineering, and seismic retrofit studies that enabled our client to qualify for Prop 1D seismic mitigation funding as well as presenting cost effective solutions to address the failing structural system while adapting the historic architecture of the original building into a modern educational facility.



Huntington Beach High School Modernization involved updating and restoring the 83 year-old, 32 acre site through comprehensive planning and phasing. The goal of this project was to modernize while respecting the building’s history, character and landmark prominence for both the school and the community. The Stadium Modernization included the replacement of the existing natural grass with synthetic turf and providing a new synthetic track surface. The Building E Modernization involved the complete renovation of the concrete bleacher building that houses team rooms, offices, rest rooms, and storage.


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