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Behind every successful renovation or construction project lies one crucial factor - accurate and up-to-date building documentation. This is especially true for academic institutions that often have a rich history and outdated plans. That's where Existing Conditions come in. With over 25 years of experience, Existing Conditions is a trusted partner in delivering successful projects involving academic institutions. One such project was our partnership with Centerbrook Architects and Suffield Academy, where we conducted an existing conditions survey of eight buildings and performed drone surveys to provide an aerial perspective of the campus. Read on to learn more about how Existing Conditions can help your academic institution achieve its goals.

During the early stages of Suffield Academy's new master plan in the summer of 2022, Phil Syr, the Director of Facilities, collaborated with Jim Coan, Senior Director of Architectural Practice at Centerbrook Architects. Centerbrook had previously worked on two master plans for the school, the first in 2003 that focused on renewing athletic facilities, and the second in 2013 that addressed academic, residential, and administrative buildings on the central campus. As part of the new master plan, Syr requested that Centerbrook document the interior and exterior of eight buildings, but as the documentation was not available in-house, it was necessary to leverage Existing Conditions’ expertise. Existing Conditions’ experience in delivering successful projects involving academic institutions made them a natural choice to ensure that the buildings’ documentation was accurate and up-to-date. The project team required documentation for each building based on its priority level, which Existing Conditions completed by maintaining consistent communication with them. Existing Conditions delivered high-quality, accurate documentation to our partners, which will prove to be invaluable for any plans and initiatives for many years to come!

Exterior rendering of laser scan data with building information model overlay

History of Suffield Academy

Private academic institutions often have a long and unique history, and Suffield Academy is no exception. Its origins date back to 1833 when it was established to train young men for the ministry in the Baptist church. In its early years, the school faced financial challenges and struggled to maintain a steady enrollment. However, over time, the institution has expanded its curriculum and evolved into a private academic institution with diverse offerings. In the late 19th century, the school became a coeducational institution and started admitting young women.

Throughout the 20th century, Suffield Academy continued to grow and establish itself as a prestigious independent school. It introduced new academic programs and expanded its campus with the addition of new facilities and buildings.

Today, Suffield Academy is known for its rigorous academic programs, diverse student body, and commitment to community service. The school has a rich history and remains a respected institution in the town of Suffield and the broader educational community.

The Middle Building (later named the Memorial Building). Image courtesy of Picasa, from the Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Suffield, Connecticut (1921).


Partnering with Centerbrook Architects and Suffield Academy

In July 2022, Coan set up a meeting to discuss the partnership with Existing Conditions and the services and deliverables that would best serve the needs of the project. By establishing these details at the outset, Coan and Existing Conditions were able to establish a clear understanding of the project's requirements and ensure that they could deliver a successful outcome. This meeting also allowed for any potential issues or challenges to be identified and addressed early on, minimizing any potential delays or complications during the project. 

Following the initial meeting, Existing Conditions promptly reviewed aerial photographs and building plans of each of the eight structures that needed to be documented as part of Suffield Academy's master plan. Existing Conditions then proceeded to plan the next steps for the project.

Approximately one month after the meeting, Holly Vaillancourt, Director of Operations at Existing Conditions, scheduled the fieldwork necessary to document each building. The project was in full swing, thanks to the partnership between Existing Conditions, Centerbrook Architects, and Suffield Academy.


Scope of Work Evolution

As part of the master plan, an existing conditions survey was conducted on eight buildings, including the Tisch Field House, Perry Gymnasium, Tremaine Arts Center, Spencer Hall, Fuller Hall, Jeanice Seaverns Performing Arts Center, Williams Performing Arts Studio, and Guttag Music Center. A drone survey was also conducted on the East Campus, West Campus, Core Campus, and Muddy Brook.

Visual drone media of East Campus in DroneDeploy

Existing Conditions used laser scanning to perform reality capture in greyscale for approximately 180,000 square feet of space. The Existing Conditions team’s scope of work encompassed both interior and exterior documentation of the buildings, including 3D Revit floor plans, reflected ceiling plans (RCPs), exterior elevations, and roof plans. In addition, a drone survey was conducted to provide an aerial perspective of the buildings, which proved highly beneficial in conjunction with our terrestrial scanning of the core campus.

To ensure the accuracy of our data, Existing Conditions took several measures. Firstly, we conducted thorough research beforehand to determine the appropriate software and technology required for the project. Existing Conditions used the latest and best drone technology available to capture high-definition images and provide clients with the most accurate data. Existing Conditions ensured that the data we captured was up-to-date by conducting the drone work on the exact day our team was scanning on-site, enabling us to accurately capture the current conditions of the area. This allowed us to provide our partners with the most up-to-date information.

During the documenting process, Existing Conditions’ operations team maintained communication with our processing team to ensure that all collected data was accurate. Our operations team uploaded the data we collected each night, allowing the processing team to review it and identify if any areas were missed. This allowed Existing Conditions to schedule follow-up scans for any problematic areas and complete the documentation on time. Overall, this approach streamlined the documentation process and allowed Existing Conditions to deliver high-quality, accurate documentation to the project team. Existing Conditions completed the scanning process by the end of August 2022. Centerbrook Architects and Suffield Academy had received all deliverables from Existing Conditions by the end of September 2022.

Laser scan data of The Tremaine Arts Center


The Challenge

One of the primary challenges that Existing Conditions faced during the project was coordinating our work around school tours and visits. Small clusters of people often visited the school, and it was challenging to document the buildings while ensuring that the visitors did not interfere with our work. However, this challenge was successfully addressed by communicating regularly with multiple site contacts and scheduling the field work at times when it would not coincide with the visits. 

On this job site, Existing Conditions also had to navigate the flight path of the local airport, which was located near the campus. This presented a challenge for the drone used for the documentation work. To ensure safety, the team would pause the drone's flight path whenever a plane was approaching and wait for it to pass before resuming the flight path. This required careful monitoring of the drone's position and adjusting the flight path accordingly. Despite this obstacle, Existing Conditions was able to complete the documentation work by utilizing the automated capabilities of the drone and our expertise in navigating challenging job sites.

When conducting a drone survey of a high school or college campus, a common obstacle is the prohibition of flying over people. To work around this challenge, Existing Conditions divided the drone flights into smaller segments, allowing us to have better control over what we were flying over and when. Existing Conditions conducted seven different flights across the campus at various times of the day when the areas were not in use, ensuring that we captured all the necessary information while remaining within the regulations.

Visual drone media of West Campus

When working with academic institutions in general, Existing Conditions often faces the challenge of scheduling their documentation work around the institutions' busy schedules. ​​With numerous rooms and areas constantly in use throughout the day, it was difficult to find times when the spaces were unoccupied and could be documented accurately. To overcome this challenge, Existing Conditions works closely with our site contacts and individuals from the school to develop a schedule that would allow us to document each building efficiently. By planning our work around the school's schedules and activities, Existing Conditions was able to minimize disruptions to ongoing operations and deliver accurate documentation of each building.

On-site image of the Existing Conditions team with the state-of-the-art Leica RTC360 laser scanner 


The Solution

Existing Conditions has over 25 years of experience when it comes to delivering successful projects involving academic institutions, which often have a rich history but outdated building documentation in plan rooms with old paper drawings. While history is valued, accurate building documentation is necessary for future renovations. Having accurate data not only helps facilities management but also allows architects like Centerbrook to work with up-to-date drawings, avoiding costly change orders.

An example of how accurate data has helped another academic institution stems from our project at Williams College, in which Existing Conditions documented over four million square feet. In 2019, Williams College reached out to Centerline Architects to create an Accessibility Study for their entire campus. They turned to Existing Conditions for help, and we provided the documentation faster, collected more information, and at a much lower cost. This accurate data empowered Centerline Architects to do what they do best and set them up for success from the beginning. Our work went beyond what we had initially planned, and they found a variety of uses for it. Working with accurate data saves time and money and ensures successful renovations, as demonstrated by our project with Williams College.

Discover how Existing Conditions efficiently documented more than a hundred buildings at Williams College. Our blog post delves into the strategies and technologies we employed to complete this challenging task. Click here to read the full story and gain insights on how we can help you with your own building documentation needs.

Laser scan data with building information model overlay of the Center for Theater and Dance, Williams College


How This Project Was Unique

The project undertaken by Existing Conditions was unique because not only did we scan the interior and exterior of buildings on campus, but we also conducted an aerial drone survey to provide a relative perspective on the campus and the buildings' locations. As a result, the clients recognized the immense value it adds to the project. Existing Conditions’ suggestion to include the drone survey was made to ensure that the focus on the core campus was not limited to just the interior and exterior of buildings. This unique approach highlights Existing Conditions' commitment to going above and beyond to meet the clients’ needs. The project team appreciated the due diligence shown by Existing Conditions to ensure that every aspect of their vision was captured.

Visual drone media of the football field

The team at Existing Conditions has decades of experience when it comes to delivering accurate building documentation for academic institutions. Existing Conditions has been selected to partner on some of the most historic and high-profile academic projects in the United States. We are the best in the building industry because we invest in our clients so that they will invest in us.

Leverage our experience, equipment, and expertise. Let us be your eyes in the field so you can do what you do best. If you are working on a similar project and would like to learn more, click here to schedule a consultation with us today!


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