Disruptions in traditional building supplies have upended all building types, with K-12 school construction being no exception. Delays are especially egregious for school district officials trying to reassure impatient parents, children, teachers, staff, and taxpayers that construction goals are being met on a planned, timely basis.

That concern is certainly on the minds of the Meramec Valley School District leaders in suburban St. Louis. District taxpayers had approved a $17.9 million bond to expand and renovate the 59-year-old Zitzman Elementary School, among other projects. The clock was ticking. However, no predicted a months-long wait for framing steel.

Then a block of white foam rode to the rescue.

Kentucky Field Trip

“We were well into design when school district CFO Al Kirchhofer, Jr., asked if we’d ever done ICF,” explains Mark Reuther, AIA, principal of St. Louis-based Hoener Associates. ICF stands for insulated concrete form, a highly evolved structural system that uses stacked Lego-like white foam blocks to create steel-reinforced, cast-in-place concrete walls.

Hoener Associates welcomed the opportunity to work on their first ICF project. Reuther and school district officials quickly organized an instructional field trip to Kentucky, home to several dozen ICF schools. Reuther and the Missouri team learned many Kentucky school districts now mandate ICF as the basis of design for several reasons, including:

  • Construction Speed. ICF walls go up quickly and reduce the number of trades required to finish the wall. A 10 to 15% reduction in the construction schedule is typical, a huge consideration for time-challenged school districts. Work isn’t delayed by cold winter weather, either.
  • Energy Savings. Cumberland Trace Elementary School in Warren County, Kentucky, is designed to achieve a projected 15.5 EUI, compared to the national average of 75 EUI for climate zone 4. The school figures to save about $175,000 annually compared to a typical county school of the same size.

Storm Shelter Resilience

These weren’t the sole factors in the Meramec Valley School District decision. The state of Missouri requires new schools to include a storm shelter, typically a resilient gym for gathering the entire school population. ICF structural systems are rated to withstand wind speeds up to 250 mph, meeting the standard.

Another factor, of course, is material availability. “The material being available in two to four weeks was important,” says Reuther. “You’re not waiting on material to get started.” The price predictability of concrete also works to the school district’s favor. Concrete is available without the wide price fluctuations of other building materials.

Thrilled Owner

Construction on Zitzman School is now about 50% complete. School district leadership is thrilled. “We can’t believe this approach [ICF] isn’t more common in Missouri. Any time we can improve safety and efficiency, while keeping costs the same or less, that’s a win for our district,” states John Mulford, the school district superintendent.

ICF is an increasingly common K-12 structural system. In Texas, for example, there are more than 160 ICF schools. Kentucky now counts at least 55 ICF schools. All told, there are well over 300 K-12 schools nationwide.
As for the Zitzman Elementary experience, the way forward seems plain enough to board member Lou Vondera: “It’s our hope and goal … to implement ICF usage district wide on future projects.”

Owner: Meramec Valley School R#-III School DistrictArchitect: Hoener Associates Architects Inc.
Structural and MEP Engineer: SSC Engineering
Contractor: Plocher Construction

Learn more about how ICF construction can help advance your K-12 educational practice through innovation, value and structural strength.