Sunday, February 3, 2008

"What is a Smart Growth Project? - Part 2"

In this series of pre-rennovation photos, provided by the developer, we see (left) the boarded up and open windows of the historic Broad street Bank Building which was listed as Trenton's largest blighted building and New Jersey's number one most endangered of being demolished. The (middle) photo shows the rooftop, totally opened and structurally compromised and the photo (furthest right) displays the interior of the national landmark Broad Street Bank Building located in the heart of downtown Trenton (NJ) .

Compare and contrast these images with those of BSSB shown in our "Prelude to Feb. 13...." post by clicking this text.

Trenton's Broad Street Bank Project's Smart Growth & Community Catalytic Features: Hurdles, Challenges, and Opportunities

What is a Smart Growth Project, part 1

Adaptive Reuse: Uncovering Hidden Assets and Obstacles

Source: Brownfield News
Thinking of buying that fixer-upper? Here are a few strategies for looking before you leap. By Celeste Allen Novak, AIA, LEED AP

Imagine the possibilities: You're considering buying a two-story brick hardware store with residential space on the edge of a university town. Built in 1906, it appears to be in good condition, but there are some signs of wear and a small portion of it sits in the flood plain. The building is faced with porcelite metal siding — installed in the 1950s to "modernize" it — hiding its original brick moldings, windows and character. There are many different options you could consider in redeveloping the property. Where do you begin?

First, consider the site and building context. The hardware store may be eligible for tax increment financing (TIF) based on factors ranging from existing contamination from an underground fuel tank to just being an obsolete structure in a core community.

This particular building was part of a cluster of nineteenth century downtown businesses. The building's unique place in the history of the community should be investigated because historic rehabilitation tax credits can be an option under the right circumstances, which can be determined through research and documentation.

Next, consider its environment. Most states regulate the uses allowed in a flood plain and flood way and it is important for a new owner to be knowledgeable about those restrictions, as it will determine how the project can be developed. The topographic survey and flood plain analysis confirmed the suspicion that the hardware store project will require special attention to stormwater treatments.

One hundred years ago the Allen Creek was buried under the pavement at the west side of the building. Without the survey, the purchaser would never suspect that this building is officially in a flood way. Due to its location in the flood plain/way, the addition had to be raised off the ground and required a "submarine" door at grade.

Finally, always consider additional programs. Because the hardware store is in a downtown area and on a bus line, it would qualify for many points in the U.S. Green Building Council's green building rating system, or LEED. As the retrofit continues, opportunities for increasing insulation and upgrading the skin of the building to meet or exceed energy codes will add savings to the operations of the building.

Beneath the worn, cold and ugly façade of the hardware store was a warm brick façade with unusual patterns and a crenellated parapet. With the new owner, the architect was able to see beyond the drab face of the building and imagine the possibilities, including a new 15,000-square-foot addition, which has multiplied the leasable area.

The architect restored the old and renewed the building through the use of an addition. Cool, hip reuse of downtown structures draws tenants to downtowns. Through the use of historic tax credits in addition to brownfield incentives, developers can choose to contribute to the unique context of our communities.

Redevelopment Detectives

What opportunities are there for redevelopment of a property? Who are the experts who can help your evaluation? What steps must be taken before you sign the sales agreement?

Investigating buildings for reuse requires detective abilities. A team of architects, engineers, and environmental and planning consultants can determine the best uses of a structure. Once the highest and best use for the site is determined, there are several questions that need to be answered, beginning with:

What are the regulatory codes for the site, from parking to stormwater?

How does the building breathe?

How strong is the structure?

What "shoes" does it wear?

What are the hidden assets and obstacles that challenge your ability to reweave this fabric of the history of the community?
Site Context

The first step in any adaptive reuse project is to complete an as-built survey of the site. The dimensions of the walls, floors, floor-to-floor heights and existing openings, as well as the mechanical, structural and environmental components of the building must be recorded along with the building's physical characteristics.

In addition, it is also important to identify the building's connections to the community’s history, its infrastructure and the environment. Good initial strategies are to:

Perform a complete zoning analysis.

Prepare a historic structures inventory and a topographic survey, including the utilities and easements.

Complete a Phase 1 environmental site assessment (ESA), testing for environmental contaminants.
The zoning analysis will allow the architect to analyze potential uses compatible with the master plan of the community and may lead to a zoning application for a planned unit development (PUD) or even a complete rezoning to the best use for the existing structure.

Building Context

Buildings are part of our history. Some buildings were owned by famous people, some have been the site of important historical events and some have been places of great creativity, contributing to our understanding of the growth of technology. Some buildings are important as a cluster, testifying to a way of life, such as brownstones in New York or camp towns of the West, and some are significant on their own merits.

Existing buildings have a social history and context that need to be taken into account in planning for reuse. For example, the zoning of most commercial districts often limits residential transformations. The requirements for infrastructure, such as parking, might generate a plan for alternative transportation systems. New stormwater regulations may require additional water storage in underground systems, green roofs, cisterns or permeable pavement.

A preservation architect researches the historical importance of a building, assesses its historic merits, determines if it is eligible (historic importance aside) to receive tax credits and submits an application to a state historic preservation office. He or she will also propose an approach for reuse that will conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation — the federal government’s guidelines for the preservation and reuse of all historic buildings. This research will help determine whether it is possible to restore a building to an original patina or if it makes more sense to insert modern, unique constructions as part of refabricating the older structure.

The Environment

It’s important to know who previous owners were and what environmental contaminants were used on site. Suspicion of environmental contamination should be cause for concern. Often, environmental testing takes several months in order to obtain accurate data. Remediation, if required, may represent an unknown cost and can delay project construction.

Inside the building, you’ll need to inventory environmental conditions, beginning with asking questions such as:

Do you smell mold?

Is there asbestos on the plumbing pipes?

Are there new additions to the building that provide opportunities for trapped moisture?

What is the condition of the roof flashing at mechanical openings as well as the eaves?

Is there adequate roof venting?

How many layers of roofing are on the building and what is the condition of the insulation?

Most buildings were designed to meet the building code in place at the time of construction. Codes only certify the minimum requirements for safety. To change a building’s use, a structural analysis of the strength of the existing materials must be completed.

Foundations, the "shoes" of a building, support the weight of its design and usage. Adding additional floors, re-cladding the skin of the building with new materials or changing supporting bracing by removing existing support systems requires documentation and calculation. New openings, additional floors and new walls need to be designed and engineered by the architect or structural engineer.

Mechanical Systems

An energy audit of the existing building will determine strategies for energy use and indoor air quality. The insertion of new insulation may also require new venting for moisture control and new mechanical systems may require additional area on the roof or adjacent to the building. The floor-to-floor dimensions will limit the choices for vertical and horizontal ducting for new systems. The site might not have enough room for new mechanical systems such as geothermal wells or ground water heat pumps. The roof might need additional support to carry new mechanical systems.

The integration of structure and mechanical systems requires teamwork from the onset of the project between the architect and mechanical and electrical engineers, along with a thoughtful study of existing conditions.

Safety and Accessibility

Trained to see code issues relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and fire safety, architects are inventive in their abilities to find solutions to accessibility requirements. Often, an older building will not meet the latest fire code and inserting sprinklers or fire walls or rating floors to separate uses can be expensive. The good news is that new materials are available to make retrofitting older structures more affordable while maintaining a historic appearance.

Green Buildings and Energy Savings

LEED currently has a pilot project in place for existing buildings (LEED-EB). A building that is low maintenance and provides a healthy interior environment is good business. New windows should be thermal glass and sunshading should be added to the west and south facades in northern climates.

New mechanical systems might include low-flow water fixtures. The interior should have materials and finishes with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which off-gas into the environment. Many options are available for affordable carpets and finishes that contain recycled content or are recyclable.

Adaptive reuse of existing structures offers many opportunities to return value to outdated, even contaminated, structures while enhancing the historic fabric of the neighborhood. By retrofitting the uses of the building to fit the needs of the community, it ensures that the structure will continue its long and productive life. Carefully working through the challenges inherent in these projects can result in great rewards.

Celeste Allen Novak, AIA, LEED AP GreenWorks Studio.

This article has been reprinted courtesy of Brownfield News. It appeared in the August 2005 edition of that publication.

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