Truman Learning Center – Shelter from the Storm

Farmington, MO, School District
Architect: Hoener Associates
General Contractor:Brockmiller Construction
Mason Contractor: Foeste Masonry, Inc.
Civil and Structural Engineer: Toth & Associates, Inc.
Producer:  Midwest Block and Brick

Recognized for its ability to weather the march of time, masonry construction also withstands times of bad weather. The Truman Learning Center in Farmington, MO, could change its name to “Truman Learning Shelter” based on the dual purpose designed into the early childhood development center’s new wing addition. The Farmington, MO, school district selected loadbearing masonry construction with a brick veneer for the addition of two new wings to the school. One of these wings bears the distinction of functioning as a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rated emergency shelter, as well as a developmental learning center.

“We never want to use the center as a FEMA structure. However, if we do have winds up to 250 mph, this is where I would want to be,” said Kim Johnson, principal, Truman Learning Center. “One of the most important factors when we were making plans for the new building was to be able to tie in to our existing structure.”

Bringing the 1930s into the present

The original buildings that now comprise part of the Truman Learning Center were built in the 1930s as the Farmington High School auditorium. The original brick set the tone for the new full masonry construction addition, while at the same time nodding to contemporary options and styles. “Working in a traditional or classical masonry style, we borrowed the keystone elements above the windows and the corbelling of brick from the original building in our new construction,” said Wade Welch, project architect of Hoener Associates Architects. “Matching the brick color to the original was our primary interest.” In addition to providing early childhood education for 400 youngsters, the Truman Learning Center expansion was also designed to function as an emergency shelter during severe weather and intense wind.

Loadbearing concrete masonry provides structural strength

A loadbearing masonry structure provides the level of safety necessary to meet FEMA’s standards for a storm shelter, while daily creating a warm, nurturing environment for children. Twelve-inch wide concrete masonry units (CMU), fully grouted and reinforced with two #6 rebar per cell, provide a structural support rated to withstand winds up to 250 mph and the impact of an eight-foot 2×4 shot at 100 mph. Welch notes that construction projects of this nature often favor masonry for both structural and aesthetic solutions. “It seems the cost of precast construction rises when you get further away from larger municipalities,” said Welch. “Contractors in these areas are more familiar with masonry construction, which gives more flexibility in design than precast concrete.”

The architect sought to break up the visual mass created by 74,000 bricks plus in the veneer and add character and warmth to the structure by using split-face CMU treatments at the base of the walls and piers. Cast stone lintels with keystones, corbelled brick and piers define every classroom window. Cast stone accent panels bearing the school’s logo – a knight – are strategically placed on the walls in high traffic areas, such as the main entrance and playground. “We wanted to include a punch in certain locations to accent the design,” said Welch. The majority of the school’s eye-pleasing interior was accomplished by utilizing durable painted CMU. The exterior red brick transitions into the building’s main entrance vestibule and lobby, setting the tone for a welcome visit. Meanwhile, brick piers help define the main office area.

Meeting the needs of safety and learning

Foeste Masonry, Inc., rose to satisfy all the project’s needs from building a solid, reliable and durable structure that will shelter a community from a storm to creating a pleasant and welcoming space where children will learn and grow. Foeste Masonry has built a number of FEMA shelters.

“It was the first time I worked with Foeste Masonry, Inc., on one of our projects,” said Welch. “I was impressed with their attention to detail on both reinforcing the FEMA portion, as well as the veneer portion when we were doing such a critical tie-in to the 1930’s era building.”

Article and photos courtesy of  the Masonry Institute of St. Louis.

Published July 2, 2019
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