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Ramco Masonry of Las Vegas is at the head of its class when it comes to building educational facilities. Over the past 15 years, the contractor has worked on more than 75 different schools. Recently, Ramco returned to Burkholder Middle School in Henderson, Nev., where it had built a brick addition 10-years before.

After several retrofits, the old, inefficient school buildings were demolished to make way for a newer design. But the new school had a big footprint to fill.

Before it became Burkholder, the distinctive campus of Basic High School was a source of pride for Henderson students since, “back when there was still space between Henderson and Las Vegas,” according to Steve Bailey, Ramco's project manager. Its buildings were stair-stepped up a hillside, with open spaces in between. Community members didn't want to sacrifice their unique alma mater's character in exchange for the new facility.

At the same time, the Clark County School District had begun requiring all new schools to operate with 50% of the energy used by their existing buildings. It is among many school districts realizing the benefits of designing green schools, with standards for high-quality acoustics, indoor air quality, and use of natural light. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) estimates a single green school can save an average of $100,000 per year – enough to hire two teachers, buy 200 computers, or purchase 5000 textbooks.

The City of Henderson is also working to make all its public buildings meet sustainability standards. While Burkholder is not a city facility, it was important to residents that the school fit with its efforts to create a green community.

Old, but new

With these goals in mind, SH Architecture, Las Vegas, set out to recreate the feel of the old school, but with a more efficient design. Open space defines the new 112,000-sq-ft school, where students' most popular routes between buildings take them outdoors. The original red brick gym still stands, with a restored exterior by A-1 Sandblasting.

The new school is a showcase of the distinctive colors and textures of split face, smooth face, and honed block, ranging in size from 8 in. x 8 in. x 8 in, to 12 in. x 8 in. x 16 in. Honed (ground face), red concrete block provides a complimentary accent to the gym's brick exterior. Entry porticoes to sixth, seventh, and eighth grade wings project into the courtyard, proudly displaying each grade's colors in red, yellow, and green glazed block.

Ramco's team of 20 masons and 20 tenders, expertly led by foreman Bob Debenedetto, faced the challenge of creating 8-ft x 12-ft openings in the 40-in. thick portico walls. “When you look up, you see five blocks deep crossing over the lintel,” said Bailey. “It was a little tricky to shore it all up and grout it in.”

The masons also helped preserve the old school's trademark black volcanic stone veneer wall, built by community members in the 1960s. They removed the wall in order to place a block substrate, and then rebuilt it in a new location.

Preserving more than memories

Concrete block contributed to the school's sustainable requirements because it was locally available, saving energy and money while providing the appropriate thermal mass properties. “Concrete block was part of our energy-saving suite of building materials,” explained SH Architecture design associate Sarah Mojzer. “It was a good way to bring in green on a reasonable budget.”