Morganton, North Carolina’s Mountain View Elementary School opened its doors to 600 eager new students on August 27th, 2018 with the mission of providing a “safe, dynamic and challenging learning environment.” The long-anticipated $20 million project is now one of Burke County’s showcase schools featuring flexible-use classrooms, customized technology, and embedded security measures married with a sleek modern aesthetic achieved with a blend of block, brick and stone veneers.

From its early design drafts in 2016, community stakeholders were looking to Mountain View Elementary School to address a host of Burke County School System’s (BCSS) pressing issues. Like many aging school districts, county officials grapple with deteriorating buildings, necessary closures, outdated security features, and overcrowding. With a limited budget, BCSS Superintendent Larry Putnam implemented a “triage” strategy that began with replacing high-maintenance buildings built between the 1920s and the 1960s. Putnam’s top priorities for the new building included eliminating outdated, impractical design features such as multiple levels, staircases, and separate entrances for cafeterias, auditoriums, and gymnasiums — all inefficient features that also pose modern-day security challenges. As the Mountain View project broke ground, stakeholders kept a watchful eye on its progress. Not only would the school’s added capacity absorb student overflow, but the detailed specifications also promised innovative solutions for today's educational landscape.

Known for its expertise in school design, Asheville-based Cort Architectural Group was chosen to transform requirements into reality. Headed by the father and son team of John and Hamilton Cort, the team focused on the goals of creating a modern, secure, welcoming space with a functional flow pattern. To fulfill that vision, the team’s single-level design plan included the integration of man-made masonry and stone looks to create a warm, inviting structure accentuated by masonry columns and a vaulted ceiling entryway. The Corts consider construct-ability to be paramount in design, which was achieved with modularity of the three wall system solutions used for the school’s interior and exterior provided by Oldcastle APG’s Echelon Masonry brand.

For load-bearing walls and interior partition walls, Cort specified Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs) manufactured by Oldcastle. For the exterior, Mesastone was used in accent colors from Oldcastle’s Ashville facility alongside Waterford full-bed depth veneers from their Rockwood, TN facility, in order to create a complete design scheme.

The Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs) were used to support the roof systems, fire-rated walls, hallways, and exterior walls. “We’re huge fans of masonry in general,” said Cort, “For a school like Mountain View, it adds a rich look that stayed within budget and allowed us to adhere to the timeline.

For the designers, gray CMU block was also an essential part of the process, serving as the structural backup to the Waterford Stone Veneers. The Echelon’s Waterford Stone was chosen in various earthy shade, including Plantation Beige and Shot Blast Grey for the exterior walls and columns.

The earthy shades were carefully selected to blend in with the natural landscape of this mountain community. Cort emphasized, “You wouldn’t want desert colors in North Carolina, so the brown tones worked well.” Because it’s a full-depth veneer, Waterford installs in the same manner as brick, making installation simple. Cort recalls, “The same masonry contractor who laid the brick installed the Waterford Stone just as easily, so another sub-contractor was not needed – saving time and money. The mason caught on quickly with minimal on-site training.”

According to the project’s general contractor, C. Mark Baucom, President & CEO of Hickory Construction, the Echelon masonry is much more cooperative than real stone, which can have too much texture and too much randomness. In addition, they were able to create a stone look without the high cost and instability of stacked stone. “The masonry accentuates the foothills project location and blends in well with the surroundings,” said Baucom. And as Cort added, “Waterford had the modularity and natural aesthetic we needed — it has a cut-stone natural look — the random-cut look and scale of it works too.”

Using Waterford Stone also allowed Cort to design a cavity wall system to deliver continuous insulation and air venting. Waterford Stone detailing was simple, because it uses the same wall ties, flashing, weeps, lintels and other details used in clay brick designs. “Our cavity wall design features a four-inch air space, and because both veneers are four inches, it helped keep the eight-inch modularity,” said Cort.

The mid-level up to the roof was completed with brick sourced from Palmetto Brick in Flashed Wirecut color. Mesastone in Antique Gray were placed as an accent “sill unit” between the Waterford Stone and clay brick. These pre-finished architectural concrete blocks resemble split face block but are more uniform, easier to lay-up, and provide straighter sight lines for the building. For this Burke County school, innovation and sustainability in design were essential, as were the durability and performance of both the block and veneers. Each displayed the needed mold resistance, low maintenance, as well as achieving excellent aesthetics for the finish.

Design challenges were overcome with some simple dry runs. “We wanted to try to build some larger fields — instead of just doing a water table, we also used Waterford Stone on a retaining wall and used sample panel on the back side of the school so they were able to practice on it before starting on the main building,” said Cort. “The higher compressive strength was important to overcome porosity and efflorescence — and water migration was also a consideration.”

“We were a bit nervous about the Waterford columns at 2 ft. 8 in., because with the scale of the stone we wondered how many variations the mason could achieve going up a column — would he be forced in repetitive patterns,” said Cort. “But Hickory Construction Company, who did the masonry installation, came up with plenty of variations, and everyone was pleased that they were able to achieve a natural stone pattern without slowing down their progress.”

In fact, Hickory Construction reported that the Waterford Stone was very user-friendly and accommodating to a brick mason who is used to all modular sizes. And as Cort mentioned, it actually saved them an entire step in the process and helped the project in on budget. "A stonemason by trade was not needed for this installation," said Baucom.

“Because Waterford is the same depth as clay brick, there was no need to lay a regular concrete masonry unit (CMU) and then adhere the stone veneer to the CMU. Our masons became very adept in the installation of this product, and I highly recommend this stone to other owners entertaining masonry products.”

Dr. Larry Putnam, Superintendent Burke County Public Schools, said, "Mountain View Elementary School was designed and built to optimize learning in a beautiful, modern setting. It was an amazing process to witness over a 15-month period, from the laying of the cornerstone to the first day of school in August."

The 30-month, 103,000 square-foot project boasts modern classroom furniture, a full-size gym, music room, and an auditorium in one single-level building. To meet modern-day demands for student safety, there' are also increased security features: keycard entries for staff members, a safe entrance check-in for visitors, hallway cameras, audio, and video monitoring for classrooms. For added security in the event of winds, storms and general security issues the structure is also enhanced by the strength of masonry construction.

The school has also been designed with the community in mind. It has a full-sized athletic field to accommodate football, soccer, baseball and softball with a concession stand, bathrooms and scoreboard that can be used by the school, Burke County recreation and the city of Morganton.

“Our students and staff enjoy the space every school day as they work and play, and we have taken every opportunity to brag on the building in show-and-tell fashion as we have opened it up to the community for various events. We are fortunate to have such an amazing building that will be the foundation for the education of countless students for years to come."

To learn more about Echelon’s InsulTech wall system and Waterford Stone, visit www.