New Life for a Treasured School


The school building in Muskogee, Oklahoma had served the community well for 80 years, but it needed a major renovation.

The historic main building at Alice Robertson Junior High School had outdated classrooms that were no longer in use. And because the campus had been expanded over the decades, students and faculty needed to venture outside to access satellite buildings.

Everything changed after voters approved a $110 million bond package in 2019 to fund new construction and renovation projects across the Muskogee Public School District. Officials designated $18 million to renovate the junior high into a modern, accessible, and connected school campus.

The renovated school is now known as the 8th and 9th Grade Academy at Alice Robertson. GH2 Architects led the design and partnered with Olsson to provide mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering and civil engineering for the project.

Built under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) near the end of the Great Depression, the school was named after the first Oklahoma woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.

“Generations in Muskogee have been educated at Alice Robertson school,” said Lance Crawley, assistant superintendent of Muskogee Public Schools. “Our community has a strong emotional connection to this school and building.”

School officials wanted to retain exterior elements – including the 1939 cornerstone – to acknowledge the history and community connection. But the interior spaces needed an overhaul.

The master plan called for connecting separate buildings to the main school structure so that no one would have to go outside to reach learning spaces. Executing the connection presented a significant challenge for our electrical engineers.

“The campus buildings were served by several different electrical services,” said Dustin Vogt, an MEP team leader with Olsson who served as project manager. “Per code, you cannot power one building with three electrical services. So, when the campus buildings were made into one, we had to supply them with a single electrical service.

Our plan required removal of some electrical supplies and augmentation of the wiring and supporting infrastructure in the main building to handle the greater demand created by additional square footage. Our team also designed a new LED lighting system, heating and cooling infrastructure, plumbing, and a telecommunications network.

As for the project’s civil engineering needs, renovating older school buildings almost always presents challenges. Let’s just say it’s not uncommon to encounter issues not easily found in a textbook.

For the Alice Robertson school project, we created plan documents for demolition, site design, grading, erosion control, and utilities. We designed improvements to the campus parking areas, driveways, sidewalks, retaining walls, dumpster enclosures, and grading to ensure proper drainage throughout the site.

Our landscape architects designed a courtyard with curved bench seating around the school’s flagpole and brought the campus up to standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The project required extensive work to update the natural gas supply, storm sewer, and sanitary sewer systems, a task made more complex because of additions to the campus over the years. Our engineers routed new domestic water supply lines and where lines traveled beneath buildings, our design featured steel casing and vent risers to allow water to safely drain in case of a leak.

We also addressed a courtyard between the buildings that was prone to flooding during heavy rains. Our solution specified installation of area inlets to drain any pooling water.

“It was an interesting project,” said Steven Wilson, an Olsson senior engineer who managed the civil aspects. “We did investigation to find utilities and create a more complete record of all the utility locations. We also incorporated a lot of storm sewer relocation, which required staying in regular communication with the project architect and design team.”

Another key safety improvement involved the addition of a modern fire protection system. Olsson designed a fire line, a fire department connection, and a fire riser room, which pressurizes and supplies the fire sprinkler system.

Finally, our civil team reconciled the different elevations of the finished floors in multiple buildings. Doing so required more coordination with the project architect.

The school will soon welcome its third round of students since the renovation was finished.

“We are really proud to have this great learning space for our students, teachers, staff, and community,” Lance Crawley said.

Like multiple generations of Muskogee residents, they will one day say they attended Alice Robertson.

Dustin Vogt
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