St. Helen Catholic School Expands Existing Campus

Plans to renovate and expand Pearland’s St. Helen Catholic School created a unique design challenge for architects: how to blend the new with the old. As it turns out, architectural concrete masonry from Best Block was the solution.

The overall project included renovation and expansion of an existing education building, a new facilities building for maintenance, and a visible, easily-accessible location for the church’s food pantry ministry.

“The fact that we could use the same material for the new construction and the renovation provided aesthetic and cost benefits,” says Sheila Rowley, partner of Houston’s Studio RED Architects. “The concrete masonry units match the original materials used on the church and now bring a consistency across campus without the added expense of caststone.”

A Seamless Connection

The education building, which first opened in 1997, was updated and expanded an additional 50-thousand square feet. This also gave designers an opportunity to refresh the exterior of the 20-year old building. “We were able to update the existing building’s material and color palette. Now it matches the church and the new buildings, unifying the entire campus,” says Rowley.

Brookstone General Contractors managed construction for the education building addition and renovation.

A new dual-use building was also constructed on campus to serve as a base for maintenance operations while also providing a home for the St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry Ministry. “The separate facilities building needed to clearly be identified as part of the St. Helen’s campus, while delivering the functional requirements for a building that serves both a ministry group and the campus maintenance needs,” says Rowley.

Patrick Lopez Building Services managed construction for the facilities building and the Food Pantry.

Concrete Masonry Utilized

Ground face concrete masonry units in a copper color were selected to match existing CMU on the church building. Oversized CMU in an island sand were chosen to match the original caststone on the church. “The use of CMU over the three buildings resulted in cost savings associated with the quantity of materials purchased,” says Rowley. “The life-span of concrete masonry, and its greater durability and low maintenance requirements, will result in operational savings for years to come.”

Rowley said Best Block architectural representative Dennis DiCesare visited the school campus several times to help narrow the list of possible material matches, as well as provide samples with adjusted blends until the church approved a color match. “His commitment to finding the appropriate materials was key to the successful use of concrete masonry unit on this project,” Rowley says.

Masonry Craftsmanship

Paul Yeatts Enterprises Inc. served as the masonry contractor. Rowley notes the contractor worked closely with their design team to adapt details from the new construction to the meet the needs of renovation project.

“The long stretches of flat walls could have challenged the end product, but their workmanship was excellent and masonry installation is plumb and clean,” Rowley notes. “Developing exterior wall mock-ups at the beginning of construction helped establish a quality level and worked out transitions and details, which allowed the actual installation to move forward smoothly.”

The Final Result

Anthony LaCoste, facilities manager for St. Helen’s, says the goal of the entire project was to create a master plan for future growth and fully utilize the 10-acre campus. “We set out to address parking needs, building layout needs for the 57 ministries that utilize the facilities, traffic flow, more efficient building locations to make things easier to find, and aesthetically match the church with appropriate design and building material,” he says.

The project designer’s vision included opening up the campus, so the east and west sides were both visually and physically connected. Since the completion of the renovations at the K-12 private school and church facility, Rowley says students and longtime members of the church are unable to distinguish between the existing and new education buildings.

“People have generally commented that the campus feels much more open, and the buildings all relate well to each other,” she says.

Project Gallery

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