Meridith-Dunbar Early Childhood Academy

August 31, 2021

Students at the Meridith-Dunbar Early Childhood Academy in Temple, Texas, recently started the 2020-21 school year with their best foot forward.

The American Constructors’ team completed a nearly $7.3 million renovation–which included interior improvements, an HVAC system upgrade, life safety improvements and more–of Temple ISD’s historic building as one of the final projects in the district’s 2015 Bond Package.

“It was a very important building to a lot of people,” American Constructors Project Superintendent John Morris said. “You can tell they’ve got a lot of pride in it, and hopefully we did that justice with our remodel.”

“I’m excited, and I’m just happy for my teachers,” Meridith-Dunbar Principal Nikki Murphy said a few days before the start of the school year as teachers moved furniture back into their classrooms. “It’s a relief to be back in the building… it’s so nice to have everything fresh, and we get to start fresh.”

Building History

The Meridith-Dunbar Early Childhood Academy roots can be traced back to the 1890s when community members established a two-room school for Black students in Temple–the first of its kind in the area. In 1951, the current school facility was built and established as the segregated city’s high school for Black students. The school carried a proud tradition of excellence, winning championships in academics and athletics as well as serving as the springboard for “Mean Joe Greene,” Hall-of-Famer and defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Over the next two decades, the building also served as a junior high and elementary school. After years of debate over what to do with the facility, the district listened to community member’s concerns, many of whom attended the segregated high school, about losing the historic site to a new school. Rather than tear the building down, the district opted to utilize it as a new pre-k education center.

In 2013, after small cosmetic renovations by American Constructors, the Meridith-Dunbar Early Childhood Learning Academy officially opened. However, for the last six years students and staff attended school in a building with a less than perfect fit for their needs.

Modern Systems in a Historic Building

Updating this 1950s building for modern systems, like AC ductwork and fire sprinkler piping, required a unique, proactive approach.

Throughout the facility, the ceiling tiles sit just a few inches below to the top of the building – a space that typically measures about three feet to hold all the necessary systems of a modern building.

The American Constructors’ team met with the fire sprinkler team a year prior to the start of construction to collaborate on the systems design.

Ultimately, the project team utilized fur-downs in hallways and classrooms, so the addition of modern systems made minimal impact on the aesthetic continuity of the building.

“It was critical to do that because then the architect knew where to put the fur-downs to hide the pipe,” Morris added. “We had to literally design the fire sprinkler lines so the architect could design the ceiling.”

Getting on the Kids’ Level

Transforming a former high school to a space for 3-5-year-olds meant American Constructors had to get on a kid’s level, literally.

Morris said he worked with the district to measure students’ height and research the average height and reach of 3-year-olds. With this data, American Constructors installed everything at an age group appropriate height.

Prior to the renovation, the bathrooms were set up at an adult height and the students had been using plywood platforms to reach the sinks, urinals and toilets.

Our team collaborated and coordinated with the design team and owner to plan for small, child-size facilities. This required the removal of concrete slabs in the bathroom so the new toilets could be floor mounted, not wall mounted like the previous units, due to their 12-inch size.

Now, building’s facilities are safer and easier for all students to use.

Steps Towards Accessibility

American Constructors suggested numerous structural modifications throughout the project to deliver the highest quality product to Temple ISD while maintaining a strict budget.

For example, our team led the charge in re-designing two existing staircases to meet ADA compliance and provide an easier pathway for all children.

The original staircases included non-functioning wheelchair lifts, meaning teachers inched disabled students up and down the stairs each day or taken outside and around the staircases.

Our team worked with the structural designers early on to draw up a plan to replace sections of the stairs with ramps.  Originally, plans called for steel beams as the main support of the new structure. However, after removing the existing slab, our team found inadequate support for steel beams and seamlessly pivoted to an all-concrete design – preventing any loss of time or money.

Kitchen Improvements

The original design plans for the kitchen called for minimal improvements: a new ceiling, lights and paint.

At the suggestion of American Constructors, the owner decided to allow crews begin work in the cafeteria over Winter Break, six months earlier than originally planned. Once the team began working on the space, they realized the concrete floor was completely deteriorated and needed to be removed and replaced–a discovery that could have proven to be a major setback.

“You can’t let those big major issues dictate the outcome of the building,” Morris said. “You’ve got to be pretty flexible.”

American Constructors communicated consistently and clearly with Temple ISD throughout the discovery of the deteriorated floor and helped the district understand what steps needed to be taken towards resolving the issue. On the job site, our team worked to keep subcontractors motivated and focused on the task at hand so as not to lose any additional time.

Thanks to our team’s guidance, this unforeseen circumstance caused no disruptions to the overall completion of the project

Trust and Scheduling

Plans for the Meridith-Dunbar Early Childhood Academy called for three summers of renovations. Our team delivered the final product over a year before the original completion date.

Morris credited the expedited timeline to the trust and relationship built between American Constructors and Temple ISD. He said our team told the district they could finish the project in half the given time if they were able to work on the entire school all at once, instead of in three smaller phases as the district requested.

“We built that relationship with them,” Morris said. “They trust us to lead them in the best direction. That’s what separates American from a lot of other contractors.”

Do you need large-scale renovations of an older building? Reach out to see how American Constructors can help on your project.