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User input on aquatics center keeps students in the swim [2014 Building Team Awards]

Collaborative spirit abounds in the expansion and renovation of a high school pool facility in suburban Chicago.

July 16, 2014 |
Special features of the new competition pool at Niles North High School include

The Building Team for the new Aquatics Center at Niles North High School in Skokie, Ill., included Chicago-area firms Legat Architects and IHC Construction—but a case could be made for listing a much larger group of official participants. The AEC firms made a concerted effort to involve not only district officials but also the user community. As a result, the project became a unique learning experience for students, staff, and neighbors.

The Niles North Aquatics Center serves 2,200 students—all of whom must take swimming—as well as 275 competitive student athletes in swimming, diving, and water polo. Feeder programs from park districts and local partners are also housed there. By 2012, the pool in the 48-year-old building was considered too small and shallow to meet current requirements.

Stakeholders asked for a new competition “cold pool,” a renovated community-accessible “warm pool,” a new public connecting corridor, locker room renovations, coaches’ offices, and meeting and storage space. Lighting and mechanical systems also needed an energy upgrade.


Project summary

Niles North High School Aquatics Center

Skokie, Ill.


Submitting firm: Legat Architects (architect)

Owner/developer: Niles Township High School District 219

Structural: KJWW Engineering Consultants

Mechanical/plumbing: AMSCO Engineering

Electrical: Hansen Palmer Associates

Civil: Gewalt Hamilton

CM: IHC Construction Companies


Project size: 39,200 sf (24,600 sf new + 14,600 sf renovated)

Construction cost: $15 million

Construction period: April 2012 to August 2013

Delivery method: Design-bid-build

District 219 teamed with Legat Architects to plan the revitalization. Students and community members were surveyed regarding their priorities, and the Building Team held design workshops that elicited feedback for the floor plan. Daylighting is an important aspect of the final design, including a mix of clerestories, clear windows, translucent windows, and internal glazing to offer glare-free illumination and visual connections. 

Eventually, the project was incorporated into the district’s architecture and engineering class curriculum. Biweekly tours were coordinated with faculty to focus on current classroom topics, and students were able to receive insights on various career paths.

“It became quite the living classroom,” says Building Team Awards judge Nathan Snydacker, PE, LEED AP, Vice President at Environmental Systems Design.

 “It’s a lot of involvement you’d want in a school project of this type,” adds BTA judge Terry Fielden, LEED AP BD+C, Director of K-12 Education for International Contractors.

The Building Team phased construction over two summers to minimize disruption, keeping the community involved with a blog, video tours, signage with QR codes, and outreach to local news outlets.

In spring 2013, a severe flood created leaks in the lower-level filtration room. The damage stalled excavation and construction of the pool slab and walls, but IHC Construction, Legat, D219 staff, and other contractors managed to keep the job on schedule and within budget.

The result is a more functional, accessible, energy-efficient facility, designed to use 42% less water and 44% less energy than typical natatoriums. The project, whose heat-recovery dehumidification units should also sharply reduce CO2 emissions, is expected to become the first aquatic center in Illinois to achieve LEED for Schools Gold certification.

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