In Education, Build New or Repurpose Old? That is the question.

by | Nov 24, 2019 | Uncategorized

In the United States, an increasing amount of our built environment is approaching the 50-year-old threshold, and our academic institutions are no exceptions. As schools of all levels age, they are forced to evolve to meet the changing needs of students and staff. This path to stay relevant and cutting edge generally leads to a crossroads: build new or repurpose the old, usually with limited resources.

Sizemore Group has been designing and planning renovations, including several projects for academic institutions, since the 1980s. Our rich history working with schools, colleges and universities has taught us that renovating existing structures may yield higher, more comprehensive returns than starting from scratch. We’ve also learned that when it comes to education retrofits, returns can and should be measured beyond the dollar sign.

Following the sustainable design principles of restoring, replenishing and re-using, it often holds true that repurposing existing academic buildings costs less than building new ones. These initial monetary savings continue long-term, as upgraded structures operate more efficiently and cost less to maintain. And while older structures can pose unique design challenges, they often lead to more functional, creative places. For example, higher ceilings provide opportunities for daylighting and better ventilation. And with new mechanical technology reducing unusable square footage, older buildings can yield more usable square footage.

Older buildings at academic institutions also have sentimental – if not historic – value that contributes to a school’s culture and distinctiveness. If torn down, these cultural icons would be lost.

Clark Atlanta University


In 2005, Sizemore Group began work with Clark Atlanta University to optimize adjacencies and increase the quality and quantity of usable space on campus. As we designed and planned the renovation of three large campus buildings – and Clark Atlanta University upgraded a central plant – we took into account the need for student and faculty retention and recruitment, accountability, aging buildings and limited capital resources.


Overall, the renovations at Clark Atlanta University have generated a high yield per resources invested. The school now has classroom space for more than 200 additional student seats without increasing its gross square footage – which would have cost more than $2 million to create new. The central plant upgrade and other modifications have allowed the school’s overall operations to run more efficiently, reducing campus-wide electricity costs, water costs, and natural gas costs.

Also, honoring Clark Atlanta University’s history and culture by breathing new life into these spaces has sparked a sense of pride among the student, faculty and alumni body, which must be taken into account when measuring return on investment. Click to read more about our work on Clark Atlanta’s Thayer HallWright-Young Hall, and Clement Hall.

Interim Medical Partnership Building at the University of Georgia


In 2008, Sizemore Group embarked on a different type of education retrofit to meet the unique needs of the Medical College of Georgia, now Georgia Regents University, and the University of Georgia. We helped turn a 38,460 square foot historic mill located on the edge of the Oconee River in Athens, Ga into the short term home of the Interim Medical Partnership Building at the University of Georgia.


The renovated structure housed classrooms, labs, offices and student support functions for the first entering class on site. In 2010, this project won an Athens Clarke Heritage Foundation Outstanding Restoration Award. To view before-and-after photos of this award-winning project, click here.

With 31 years of award-winning architectural planning and design experience, Lily Berrios is a Principal at Sizemore Group who leads the firm’s higher education and campus planning practice. Lily has worked with more than 30 college campuses on programming, campus planning, design and implementation of projects. You can see more of Sizemore Group’s work in this space here, or you can contact Lily at