Show Your Mettle

Designing with metal brings durability, energy savings, and cost efficiency together
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Sponsored by Metal Construction Association
By Amanda C Voss, MPP

Weighing the Cost of Metal: performance in the Face of Disaster

Extreme weather such as hurricanes has brought the importance of durability into the calculations for buildings. To maximize its durability and life, a building must be equipped to shield its occupants, from weather, fire, water, high winds, severe storms, and, where applicable, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Photo courtesy of Englert Inc.

The Magdalena Grand Beach Resort in Tobago was built to withstand the natural disasters prone to the island. A metal roof was selected to protect against the extreme uplift caused by hurricane-force winds.

In September 2011, Tropical Storm Lee roared into the Gulf of Mexico and wreaked havoc in states from Louisiana and Mississippi all the way up to Pennsylvania and New York. It caused severe flooding in many of those states and left deep scars on many communities in its wake.

One of those communities was the town of Owego, New York. The county seat of Tioga County, the town of just about 4,000, was hard hit by rising waters brought on by Tropical Storm Lee. The school district was smashed with particular fury. Four of the district’s buildings were completely destroyed by flooding, and others were severely damaged.

When the waters receded, the village pulled together to restore its infrastructure. “After Tropical Storm Lee hit and flood waters destroyed the area, Highland was called by the district to help assess the damage,” recalls David Degnon, senior associate with Highland Associates. “We were on-site within days of the initial flooding, and working hand in hand with the district, FEMA, the New York State Education Department, and the state of New York, we designed three new buildings to replace the four lost to the storm.”

The new facility housing the community’s elementary school was set to be built in the same place as the original, but this time it would be raised above the flood plain in accordance with U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines to mitigate future potential disasters.

There were four major goals laid out from the beginning of this project. First was to create a space where students could feel safe and comfortable. Second was to design engaging spaces that extend learning beyond the classroom. Third was health and wellness, which meant maximizing daylighting and improving indoor air quality while pursuing a LEED Silver certification. And fourth was to serve the community as a symbol of healing.

The design team selected multiple horizontal metal panels with profiles that resemble residential siding. Sloped metal-panel roofing was selected to resemble the sloped roofs of the surrounding neighborhood. “We also chose flat insulated metal panels for the main entrance and at the classrooms to give the building a distinct, modern feel,” Degnon says. “The range of colors used for the metal panels were dark bronze, blue, and copper. These are all colors that occur in natural bluestone, which is another cladding material commonly used in this area.” A manufacturer’s insulated composite backup panel system provides thermal and moisture performance behind the bulk of the mixed-medium building envelope. The product features integral attachment systems for metal, terra cotta, brick, and other facade materials, making it the perfect solution for mixed-medium exteriors.

“From disaster comes opportunity. The new Owego Elementary School is a state-of-the-art, 124,000-square-foot facility that will serve the community for generations,” Degnon says. “As design professionals, we learned to keep pushing the envelope of possibilities. It is our job to design spaces that evoke emotion. I have seen that emotion on the faces of the children who occupy the school, the faculty and staff who work in the school, and the community members who have visited the school. Highland Associates feels very fortunate to have been part of such a special project.”

Metal brings multiple benefits to the table when thinking about how best to preserve a building in the face of natural disasters. Metal panels can offer completely noncombustible surfaces, superior strength, ductility, and the ability to avoid corrosion and mold.

 

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Originally published in Architectural Record

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