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July 13, 2018


Masonry Plays Lead Role as New Orleans Rebuilds after Katrina

Architect Peter Fortier, AIA, EDAC of LACHIN Architects, APC in New Orleans has served on design teams for some of the more notable projects in the city of New Orleans. When designing a new school in Saint Bernard Parish, however, Fortier was faced with a compressed construction schedule, on a site still at risk from future flooding. The resulting school came in on time, on budget, and ready to educate young minds—as well as to withstand another Katrina if necessary.

“When we first surveyed the post-Katrina damage, we took note of construction materials that survived. Glazed concrete block and glazed tile best weathered the inundation and could be cleaned and reused.” Peter Fortier, AIA, EDAC of LACHIN Architects, APC in New Orleans

Mason Randy Rush, of Rush Masonry in New Orleans, agrees that masonry buildings fared better in Katrina than those constructed with other building materials, and has seen increased use of masonry since 2005. “Since Katrina, we’ve been seeing a lot more glazed CMU, groundface CMU and interior CMU partitions because the materials are better able to withstand flooding and are easier to cleanup afterwards,” he says.

When designing Arlene Meraux Elementary, the team designed all interior walls with glazed masonry to a minimum of 10 feet high. They also raised all critical mechanical and electrical systems out of harm’s way to the second level.

“With the glazed masonry wall, the elevated slab, and the raised mechanical systems, we can weather another Katrina. Once waters recede, we’ll be able to hose everything down and have everything back in working condition quickly,” explains Fortier. Although a typical schedule for a school of this size would be 15 months, this project was completed in 12 months without incurring serious overages or overtime charges. Of course, the compressed schedule created a cost-control challenge. Using glazed masonry was one of the value-engineering methods he used. Rush Masonry, working with Gibbs Construction, did an outstanding job of scheduling and installing the work to accommodate the demanding schedule.

“One of the advantages of glazed masonry is that once the product is in place, no painting is needed. Eliminating that step saves a good deal of time, and when you use a glazed masonry, it not only stands up to natural forces, but student abuse, as well.” Fortier AIA, EDAC of LACHIN Architects, APC in New Orleans

For aesthetics and practicality, he established a multi-color palette, with a separate color theme created for each wing. “Color-coding is a better way to help K-5 students identify the different areas of the school than signage, which is another benefit of glazed masonry,” he explains.

Colored terrazzo flooring and trim coordinates with the color themes of the wings, and hexagonal designs tie in with the school mascot, the bee. “The finished look of the design exceeded my expectations,” Fortier notes.

“The masonry on this project is the best-looking aspect of the design,” adds Rush.

Arlene Meraux Elementary opened its doors to nearly 550 students in August, in time for the 2017-2018 school year. The 115,000 square feet, newly built, state-of-the-art facility features two courtyards, a large playground, an outdoor classroom, library, gym, music and art classrooms. The school sits on a 14.6-acre plot of land donated by The Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation. Since Joseph Meraux had owned one of the largest collections of rare and novel clocks in the world, the school design includes a clock tower as a nod to this collection.

Natalie Albers, Arlene Meraux Elementary School’s principal, refers to the facility as “115,000 square feet of sheer perfection.” She says parents and students were amazed at the detail and the thoughtful design of the building.

LACHIN Architects has done as many as 20 projects for the Saint Bernard Parish School Board, ranging from demolitions and renovations to new construction.

“Wherever there was new construction, we utilized glazed CMU, and all but one used AstraGlaze. I’ve been very happy with the product. I primarily use it on the interior because it performs well. I also sometimes use it on the exterior as an accent to brick.” Fortier AIA, EDAC of LACHIN Architects, APC in New Orleans

This article was first featured in MODERN MASONRY Volume 2, Issue 3. Read the full issue here.

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