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Two Schools Meet with Metal

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Metal building materials define unique learning environment

Photo: Ryan Pierce
Photo: Ryan Pierce

JC Pierce LLC designed a single, modern building to house two schools: Twin Rivers Primary School and Twin Rivers Intermediate School in McKeesport, Pa. The Bellevue, Pa.- based firm specified metal building products to define the building as a whole. The design team conceived an undulating roof to match the site's hilly topography. Architects communicated interior functions with exterior design elements. For example, a pair of two-story, glass-encased corridors where students move between classrooms are elevated.

Additionally, the facility references the area's industrial heritage. Designers used metal building products to create machine-like aesthetics and mechanical systems are showcased for educational purposes.


Fifth Façade

David Nitchkey, vice president and director of architecture at JC Pierce, says site topography was a driving factor. Views at the back of the building look over the Mon Valley, named for the Monongahela River. "As you move away from the building into the neighborhood, you're going up to where you get a good view of the roof," Nitchkey says. "So that became the fifth façade." Waves and barrel vaults pop above flat roofs in response to the building's interior functions, Nitchkey says. "That's why you see so much undulation," he says. "We're calling out important spaces by creating those roof elements, but it also reflects the hills that you see on the other side of the valley."

Norcross, Ga.-based Innovative Metals Co. Inc. (IMETCO) supplied 12,000 square feet of 0.04-inch aluminum non-curved Series 300 standing seam metal roof panels in Cadet Gray and 1,200 square feet of 0.04-inch aluminum factory-curved Series 300 standing seam metal roof panels in Cadet Gray for the 128,000-squarefoot education facility. Additionally, IMETCO supplied 0.063-inch aluminum Performance Edge ES-C Coping and ES-FX Fascia.


Separate Wings

The Twin Rivers schools building has two academic wings with bisecting, glass-enclosed corridors. The wings connect to a central area with shared spaces including the library and media center, cafeteria and gymnasium.

Photo: Ryan Pierce
Photo: Ryan Pierce

Ryan Pierce, AIA, principal at JC Pierce, says the project was part of McKeesport Area School District's broader consolidation plan and brought younger students and older students under one roof, which concerned some stakeholders. "That was the reason for the two schools within the school, where the kids are separated into two educational wings," he says. "They're kept separate as much as they can be during the day, and that created a floor plan that is spread out with two wings and connecting big box spaces in the middle. That is a nontraditional way to design an elementary school."


Enlightened Passage

The project team designed the two-story academic wings with long, bowed façades. "We created the curve which then pulled the corridor off of the inside wall of the building," Pierce says. "[This] created a light slot in the floor that allows natural light to go down from up above into the lower floor."

The Engineered Metals Co. (EMCO), Sacramento, Calif., supplied an aluminum-and-glass curtainwall for the project. Nitchkey says the stairwells at each end of the corridors are glazed from top to bottom, which significantly minimizes artificial light usage on the second floor. "Even on overcast days, cloudy days, with that continuous clerestory running down the length of the corridor, it's rare for them to need the artificial light," he says.


Big Box Surprise

Pierce says the nontraditional design approach to the project lent itself to using nontraditional materials compared to many school buildings in the region, which are brick or split-faced block with flat membrane roofs and punched-out window openings. Leetsdale, Pa.-based Syntheon Inc. supplied a shop-fabricated ACCEL-E Steel Thermal Efficient Panel wall system for the project, which Pierce says was important to the central, shared spaces part of the design. "That's a very nontraditional way to build a school," he says. "Typically this is used for big box stores because it's fast, it's efficient. Those store walls don't have a lot of openings, so they can build them really quickly."

The Steel Thermal Efficient panels include metal studs, insulation and building wrap. In addition to reducing installation time, Nitchkey says the panels provide greater R-value for the depth of wall compared with traditional, stick-built exterior walls.


Learning Machine

Pierce says the schools were designed to have a smooth, high-tech appearance with smooth brick, monolithic-looking, Alucobond panel-clad masses, metal sunshades and corrugated metal siding. All the aluminum window systems and sunshades were given a clear anodized silver finish.

IMETCO supplied 16,180 square feet of 0.4-mm aluminum Latitude LW-16S-28F metal wall panels in Cadet Gray and Silver Cloud and 4,000 square feet of 0.4-mm aluminum Latitude LW-16S-4 metal wall panels in Cadet Gray and Silver Cloud. Statesville, N.C.-based 3A Composites USA Inc. supplied Alucobond aluminum composite material (ACM) panels in Cadet Gray Cool for the exterior of the principal's office, story room and other locations. "When you put all these metals together, including the windows and doors, you have a big silver and red machinelike building," Pierce says.

Photo: Ryan Pierce
Photo: Ryan Pierce

Nitchkey says the building's contemporary character was driven by a desire to reflect the schools' math and science academy designation. "We wanted to expose as much of the building systems to the students as possible," he says. "The building itself is smart and became a learning tool for the students and staff."

Pete Szymanski, AIA, LEED AP, BD+C, senior project manager and LEED manager at JC Pierce, says the building could be compared to a machine or watch with a transparent face. Mechanical equipment is showcased in bright, color-coded rooms with viewing windows and museum lighting in a central meeting space known as The Commons.

"Most things that would traditionally be hidden in a basement and never seen other than by the guys that do the maintenance on it, we elevated these into the special teaching environment of the school," Szymanski says.

Twin Rivers Primary School and Twin Rivers Intermediate School, McKeesport, Pa.
Completed: December 2013
Owner: McKeesport Area School District, McKeesport
Architect: JC Pierce LLC, Bellevue, Pa.
General contractor: Gurtner Construction Co. Inc., Pittsburgh
Installer: Miller Thomas Gyekis Inc., Pittsburgh
Curtainwall: The Engineered Metals Co. (EMCO), Sacramento, Calif.,
Metal roof/wall panels/fascia/coping: Innovative Metals Co. Inc. (IMETCO), Norcross, Ga.,
Metal wall panels: Alucobond by 3A Composites USA Inc., Statesville, N.C.,
Metal wall system: Syntheon Inc., Leetsdale, Pa.,

Photo: Ryan Pierce