Why the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center looks great with slate

Initially constructed in 1949, the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center (AYFD) clearly was past its prime and due for a change. After all, it is one of the oldest buildings in East Chattanooga, Tennessee. In November 2019, the center was replaced by a completely new facility. Designed from the ground up by Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects, the 22,550-square-foot center is roughly four times larger than the old center.

If you are looking for a pretty cool perspective on the scope of the project, the old facility actually could fit inside the new facility’s gym.

Project Manager Chris Dufresne, RA, at HK Architects, says the collective goal was to create a facility that could be a true beacon for the community—a high use pubic facility. Situated on a prominent corner of the site, AYFD has become a symbol of revitalization, featuring fresh and modern design lines. It is not your typical, stale institutional building.

“Everyone involved wanted this to be a project to help bring new life to the region,” Dufresne says. “Our goal was that the new community center would personify the perfect place for after-school programs. And also to be recognized for having a great sports facility, community center, senior activities center, work force training center and, even a public library branch.”

HK’s designs specified rainscreen material to be clad on the exterior façade of the building. The main building structure is a concrete masonry unit (CMU). For durability, the interior of the space leaves the concrete walls exposed, making it easier for the builder to attain better thermal performance with a rainscreen.

“We used continuous spray foam insulation on the exterior behind the rain screen, in combination with filling the CMU cells,” Dufresne says.

HK’s plans called for CUPACLAD® materials to be used for rainscreen purposes. CUPACLAD® is a natural slate rainscreen cladding system that provides a range of cladding solutions, from traditional to contemporary, offering architects and specifiers a wide choice, suited for any individual design. The slates were installed using a new and efficient installation system, painstakingly crafted by CUPA PIZARRAS, one of the world’s leading sources of top-quality slate surfacing materials for construction.

Dufresne says HK was looking for five major factors in selecting the rainscreen material: durability, the longevity slate offers, a classy look presents a good image of the city as a government-owned facility and price (it is less than brick).

“For economic reasons, the rainscreen was installed with a double lap, not a triple lap; like a slate roof would be,” Dufresne says. “This left small gaps between some of the slates. Using closed cell spray foam for the insulation and weather barrier, you could see small gaps between the slate modules. Therefore, we decided to install a black HDPE (high-density polyethylene interlayer) behind the slate. This basically filled the small gaps and was not noticeable, even if one was standing right next to the building. People can only see it, if they are inches away, and are specifically looking for it.”

Dufresne also says HK wanted to incorporate more modern detailing, so it built a full-sized, in-house mockup of a corner of the Avondale building. “We selected concealed flashing detail for the corners, not a surface applied trim. And, a metal reveal base of wall channel trim.”

In the end, the ability for the CUPACLAD® systems to be quickly and easily installed helped in the process. And because natural slate has no color fading, it can stand up to any climatic change. There also is no maintenance required.

“The City of Chattanooga is happy with the results,” Dufresne says. “So is HK Architects. The building looks great.”

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Ron Treister is Founder/President of Communicators International Inc., a marketing communications firm in Jupiter, Florida. For three decades, his firm has worked with major accounts in the commercial construction sector. He can be reached at rlt@communicatorsintl.com.

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