Historic Wyoming High School Completes Massive Restoration

By Lisa Kopochinski

CASPER, Wyo.—The restoration of the nearly century-old Natrona County High School in Casper has been completed.

Originally designed to house both Casper College and Natrona County High School, the Collegiate Gothic-inspired complex was constructed between 1924 and 1927 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This project included a complete renovation of the existing 145,000-square-feet historic building and a 137,000-square-feet addition. To ensure continued occupancy during construction, the project was divided into six phases of construction spanning nearly five years.

Adolfson & Peterson (AP) Construction was the general contractor, and Bassetti Architects was the architect.

This impressive project included removing one-third of the historic concrete structure, while keeping the remaining structure intact; installing new foundations in the historic theater; installing a new elevator shaft through the existing concrete structures; and using swing stages suspended from the roofs to complete the masonry and terracotta restoration.

“The restoration of NCHS was shaped by three overarching ideas: a shift in the educational approach focused on career-based learning opportunities; upgrades to the historic campus targeting preservation, resilience and vitality; and safe continuous occupancy for students and staff,” explains Lorne McConachie, principal at Bassetti Architects.

The design takes its inspiration from the district’s guiding principles—a culture of empowerment, inventive learning settings, collaborative learning environments, a memorable campus and meaningful community partnerships.

The revitalized 22.5-acre school campus is organized around the four career academies with shared facilities (historic theatre, student commons, library and physical education) that are aligned through the center of the building.

The restoration preserved the historic facades of the landmark structure to the south and created a major, contextually responsive addition to the north. The entire building was organized around a protected inner courtyard with new secure entries located at the gaskets between historic and new construction. The renovation and additions have transformed the landmark school into a vibrant 21st-century learning environment serving the academic, physical, and social well-being of students and staff, while simultaneously enhancing the building’s presence within the community.

The most substantial challenge was the historic theater. Because it was simply too small a volume for proper acoustics, the design solution demanded opening the bays of the old ceiling to expand the room into the interstitial roof truss area above the auditorium and enhance the balance of sound within it. An acoustically transparent fabric was stretched across the open ceiling bays to replicate the original plaster ceiling finish. Additionally, catwalks laid out in the open roof trusses were able to support critical lighting locations.

To execute the work, a scaffold dance floor system that took three weeks to install was used. Once installed, crews took molds of historic cornices that run across the theater, as well as the historic proscenium column, so they could be replicated. The old plaster ceiling was removed, including asbestos and popcorn texture. AP installed structural steel for the new catwalk systems and HVAC, mechanical and plumbing. Perfect execution was critical as there was no time to reinstall the scaffolding system.

The revised historic auditorium is home for statewide competitions and the Wyoming Symphony, greeting visitors with restored stained-glass windows, a larger stage and orchestra pit, resloped floors, and restored cornices across the now fabric ceiling.

The project also required numerous active and passive strategies to reduce energy and increased occupant comfort—including the installation of active chilled beams, condensing boilers and heat recovery units.

The design provided access to natural daylight and views to 98 percent of classroom and staff spaces. The remodel upgraded the envelope of the existing walls by adding continuous insulation behind the masonry, improving both thermal performance and air infiltration rates. Walls and roofs in the new addition were insulated beyond code minimums to provide a robust energy-saving envelope. Windows throughout the new and remodeled portions were upgraded with a high-performance, double low-e coating that achieves a u-value comparable to triple-pane units.

The reconstructed school reflects a bright future with lively colors, balanced daylight, and durable and handsome finishes.

Steve Harshman, a long-time teacher and coach at the school, had nothing but glowing comments about the project and general contractor.

“I was so pleased that AP was more than a contractor for our school. They were involved early in the project and continued to think big picture and to deliver total solutions, instead of just addressing short-term problems. I think their involvement and expertise, helped make the project a resounding success.”