A former IBM office building was redeveloped into the new North Atlanta High School, an 11-story public high school that features more than 30,000 square feet of tile from Daltile

North Atlanta High School (NAHS) is the most expensive public school ever built in Georgia. Located in the prominent neighborhood of Buckhead within the state’s capital, the $147 million adaptive reuse project stemmed from the city’s need to accommodate growing student populations in North Atlanta.

“As you can imagine, finding 60 acres of available land to build a new high school in what is essentially a fully developed urban area was a difficult task,” said Bob Just, principal at Cooper Carry in Atlanta, GA. “It required Atlanta Public Schools to be creative.”

After considering several potential site locations within the designated North Atlanta region, a 56-acre wooded plot of land within Buckhead was purchased in 2011, which formerly served as an IBM corporate campus. The 11-story concrete office tower onsite, which was built in 1977, was transformed into the multi-functional high school designed to eventually hold 2,400 students. A second high-rise office structure was demolished to make way for the new fine arts and education building.

“The goal was to convert an 11-story, high-rise, corporate office building into a state-of-the-art high-rise high school — a challenge never done before,” explained Just. “Since the original 1977 building was a Class A office building, it had a very corporate feeling that included wood paneling and carpeting that we knew would not stand up to the challenge of most high school students. Our goal was to create an environment that would be both durable and sophisticated in a way that it would inspire students heading to higher education, the work force and perhaps the corporate world.”

Elevated over an expansive lake with classrooms that showcase views of city skyscrapers, NAHS embraces a very contemporary environment. The school — equipped with a 1,800-person gymnasium and 900-car parking deck — houses four different academies and includes a food court-style cafeteria with a smoothie bar, a video production center, a theater and an indoor shooting range for the shooting team and military programs.

Approximately 31,000 square feet of tile from Daltile was used for the various floors and walls throughout the school. Outside of the classrooms, 20,000 square feet of corridor floors were set with heavily textured, 12- x 24-inch rectified porcelain tile, which were also accented with smaller decorative ceramic tile. Restroom walls feature larger 6- x 6-inch ceramic almond tiles, while the walls throughout the cafeteria feature patterns constructed of small assorted glazed tiles.

United Enterprises, Inc. of Buford, GA, was enlisted to complete the tile installation, which utilized products from Custom Building Products in Seal Beach, CA. “Custom was specified for the project from the beginning, which we were happy with because of the architectural and technical support we receive,” said Alan Davis, project manager at United Enterprises. “I have used Custom products for many years and have always been very happy with the results. Our local architectural rep was great to work with and very helpful with technical advice.”

Installation made easy

Since the existing building had concrete subfloors, it required a significant amount of surface preparation to acquire the flatness suitable for tiling. Running on a relatively tight installation schedule, Davis said the use of a rapid-setting leveler was essential to complete the work in time for the first day of classes in August; LevelQuik® RS (Rapid
Setting) Self-Leveling Underlayment was used. Prior to leveling, installers applied LevelQuik Advanced Acrylic Primer, a versatile primer that seals both porous and non-porous surfaces and improves the bond of self-leveling underlayments.

Before any tile was set, the concrete floors were prepped with CrackBuster® Pro Crack Prevention Mat Underlayment, a self-bonding, fabric-reinforced asphaltic mat that achieves an extra heavy service rating. This mat meets ANSI A118.12 requirements and protects tile from in plane movement up to 3/8 inch to reduce crack transmission. “CrackBuster Pro goes down really easily and it stays down,” added Davis.

After the surfaces were completely prepped, the tile was laid. The porcelain tiles throughout the corridors were installed with MegaFlex® Crack Prevention Mortar, a polymer-modifed thinset designed for extra flexibility and bond strength for the most demanding installation requirements. MegaFlex has since been discontinued and replaced by MegaLite® Ultimate Crack Prevention Large Format Tile Mortar, which is also available in a rapid-setting formula. The ceramic tiles on the walls of the restrooms were set with ProLite® Premium Large Format Tile Mortar, which offers high bond strength in a lightweight formula and will not sag or slip.

All tiled surfaces at NAHS were grouted with CEG-Lite™ 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout, which provides stain and chemical resistance, as well as a fast cure time. CEG-Lite exceeds ANSI A118.3 and is also suitable for use on vertical joints without the use of an additive, which was ideal for this jobsite’s many tiled walls.

Both ProLite mortar and CEG-Lite grout are part of Custom’s Build Green product lineup that contributes to LEED certification, along witth Custom’s Emerald System of environmentally responsible products. When used as a system, Emerald System products qualify for carbon offset credits that help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Based on the use of these and other contributing products, NAHS achieved LEED Silver level certification for the project, which took two years to complete.

Opened in 2013, this one-of-a-kind high school has received a plethora of positive responses from locals and outsiders. “It has received numerous awards and a great deal of press,” said Just. “It has also been published in numerous publications from local and national media.”

North Atlanta High School

Atlanta, GA

Architects: Cooper Carry, Atlanta, GA; Collins Cooper Carusi Architects, Atlanta, GA; Paul Cheeks Architects, Atlanta, GA
Tile Supplier: Daltile, Dallas, TX
Tile Installer: United Enterprises, Inc., Buford, GA
Installation Products: Custom Building Products, Seal Beach, CA (LevelQuik RS (Rapid Setting) Self-Leveling Underlayment, LevelQuik Advanced Acrylic Primer, MegaFlex Crack Prevention Mortar (now MegaLite Ultimate Crack Prevention Large Format Tile Mortar), ProLite Premium Large Format Tile Mortar, CEG-Lite 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout, Custom Commercial 100% Silicone Sealant)