Renewing windows in a historic or heritage building can be a tricky proposition. To balance performance improvement with heritage preservation, unique solutions often need to be developed for each individual project. RDH rose up to the challenge by completing a historic window retrofit in an occupied condominium that was formerly a high school originally constructed between 1909 to 1955.
Queen Anne High School (QAHS) is a historic 137-unit low-rise condominium in Seattle, Washington. It was originally constructed in 1908 with additions in 1929 and 1955. In 1986, it was expanded and renovated during an apartment conversion, then finally converted to condominiums in 2006. The conditions encountered on the buildings after 100 years of service lead to, among other things, the replacement of the original single-paned wood frame window sashes with new double-paned wood frame window sashes to replicate the originals and fit within the original frames. Throughout the process, RDH uncovered some lessons about managing expectations that can be translated to almost any rehabilitation project.
The building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, so it had very strict requirements for modifications. In addition, the three existing buildings that formed the former school varied in construction type and age, adding another layer of complexity to the project. Working with the ownership group of a historic complex brought up some interesting concerns along with the need for strong communication to ensure owner expectations were realistic and aligned with the project objectives. The retrofit was intended to allow the windows to work much the same as they had when they were originally installed a century ago, but with improved heat, moisture, and air control. Early in the project it became apparent that some owners were expecting the retrofit window to operate like a modern window. Furthermore, over the life of the building, small changes and modifications had been made to each window. As a result, RDH created an almost custom approach to the replacement project. With 137 residential units in three very different buildings from different construction periods, good communication and planning were imperative.
In order to minimize surprises during the investigation and design phases of the rehabilitation project, RDH partnered with Peter Meijer Architects–the leading historic preservation architecture firm in the Northwest–to provide historic preservation and repair design expertise to supplement RDH’s building enclosure work.
During construction, RDH and the project team discovered each of the small nuances of the building. The fit of each window became a customized operation, and often the installation required two or three adjustments over a period of several weeks to accommodate the fit of the new sashes into the existing frames. Often the contractor adjusted a window to its proper operation only to find it had changed over the course of a week, much to the dismay of the homeowners. To manage this, RDH built into the schedule follow-up adjustments to ensure that the owners knew additional adjustments would be required for the windows to function optimally. These checks continued for a few weeks, often into a different season to confirm the windows had fully adjusted to the environment they had been installed in. This also allowed the contractors to more efficiently target the adjustments by planning a day to adjust all the windows at once instead of responding reactively to residents’ concerns on a case-by-case basis, saving the residents time and money in the long run.
“It is particularly noteworthy that your success has been achieved in some very difficult, everchanging and dynamic circumstances. No challenge is too big for RDH. You guys always produced the right solution in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner.”
Rod K Pray
Board President, QAHSC
The better our team was able to communicate with the owners and tenants, the more realistic their expectations were about how the work would impact their lives and what the final result in their units would be. The adjustment protocol gave the owners greater confidence in the contractor and alleviated the need for owners to report each small issue individually. Residents were also able to enjoy the functionality of newly customized windows as well as repaired roofing and exterior walls. At the conclusion of the project, RDH provided a final sign-off form to residents to catch any last issues that were missed over the course of the construction process.
Learn more about our Design + Construction Services