NEW YORK — Construction on the interior fit-out of Xavier High School’s $11.7 million, six-story Fernandez-Duminuco Hall addition was completed last fall, culminating in a dedication ceremony held on Sept. 15. This was the first addition in more than 90 years for the historic school, located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
Xavier, a Jesuit college preparatory school for young men, was founded in 1847 and is spread across six buildings located adjacent to the Church of Saint Francis Xavier. Because space is tight in Manhattan, the 45,000-square-foot Fernandez-Duminuco Hall was built inside a larger 170,000-square-foot, 330-foot-tall luxury residential condominium tower, named 35XV. The developer, Alchemy Properties, obtained the air rights for the new building from the high school in exchange for placing Fernandez-Duminuco Hall inside the new development.
The residential condominium section of the building is located 100 feet above ground level and residents use a separate, glass-clad entrance. The first six stories of the building, however, are dedicated to the Xavier High School addition. The school portion is clad in stone, reflecting the architecture of the neighboring school buildings, while a glass curtain wall was installed on the building’s seventh to 25th floors. Richter+Ratner (R+R) served as the construction manager, while Beyer Blinder Belle served as the architect — both of which are located in New York.
“Building a new school within a larger multi-use structure was a logistical and planning challenge, despite the fact that most of the residential construction work was completed when the interior build-out of the school began,” said Kristin DiStefano, P.E., LEED AP, R+R’s project manager. “We maintained partitions between the new and existing sections of the building for both safety and site management reasons. This allowed us to keep all materials and crews separated; however, we still had to coordinate deliveries and pickups at the street level with other construction teams daily.”
The addition included the construction of a STEAM classroom, music facilities, a recording studio, a student project space, and a flexible, multi-use area that hosts theater productions and assemblies. The first floor also houses a 300-square-foot conference room and 500-square-foot lobby meeting space, featuring one wall that is fitted with a large white board.
A new music suite is located on the second floor alongside a recording studio. Soundproof ceilings, walls, floors, windows and doors help acoustically separate one room from the next. R+R even created a “floating” floor slab raised above the building’s concrete base floor on springs to enhance sound isolation between spaces, according to a statement.
The 3,000-square-foot auditorium comprises the third floor. The architect opted to not include a permanent stage in order to increase flexibility of use, and the school simply erects a demountable stage when needed. A mezzanine level with one classroom and two offices wraps around the double-height auditorium on the fourth floor. The fifth and sixth floors feature education spaces, including a STEAM classroom complete with a robotics workshop, tunable lighting, video production equipment and 3-D printers.
The project was part of a master plan that focused on defining entrances and circulation among the school buildings. The new addition is adjacent to Xavier’s existing buildings and connects to one on floors two, three and five. However, building the connections between the buildings became one of the most challenging parts of the project, according to DiStefano. Because the existing Xavier High School building is more than 100 years old, no plans or records exist for the original structure. The construction team used a structural engineer to determine where the connections between the buildings would be built.
Additionally, floors elevations between the two buildings were slightly different. Once the openings between the two buildings were prepared and structurally secured, the construction team also built connectors to bridge them.
“This project differed from most of my educational construction experience because of the unusual location, structural challenges and the complex site logistics — even for an urban project,” said DiStefano. “The Fernandez-Duminuco Hall is located in the bottom portion of one building, while also being connected to another building. Most of my other school projects were freestanding structures located on their own campuses, which made logistical planning and site management much easier.”