Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Union Station, Springfield, IL

Architect: White & Borgognoni Architects, P.C., Carbondale, IL; Bill Borgognoni, AIA, principal in charge; Bryan Cobin, construction administrator

General Contractor: Halverson Construction Co., Inc., Springfield, IL




Restoration & Renovation

Winner: White & Borgognoni Architects, P.C.

Downtown Revival

By Will Holloway

One Saturday in 2006, architect Bill Borgognoni was approached by a man as he observed the construction of the new clock tower atop Union Station in downtown Springfield, IL. Borgognoni, unbeknownst to the man, was the principal in charge of the restoration and rehabilitation of the turn-of-the-century structure for Carbondale, IL-based White & Borgognoni Architects. "Isn't it great they're fixing up the train station?" said the man, a native of Springfield who was heading across the street to the recently opened Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM). "But, you know, they really messed it up by putting that tower on it – it was never there when I was a kid."

The man was right, but only because he was too young to have remembered Union Station prior to the mid-1940s. For over a century, since it was completed in 1898 to a design by Francis T. Bacon of the Illinois Central Railroad, the 22,530-sq.ft. Romanesque Revival structure has occupied the northern portion of the Springfield block bounded by Jefferson, Madison, Fifth and Sixth streets. Indicative of the station's age, a fire insurance map from 1896 showing neighboring businesses speaks of a different era: a sausage factory across Madison Street to the north; a stone yard, a wholesale liquor store and a hay and feed store within the same block to the south. Union Station's original layout – a two-story central pavilion surrounded on three sides by open-air waiting platforms – included ticket offices flanked by a "Men's Waiting Room" and a "Women's Waiting Room." Up until 1946, it was topped by an ornate 150-ft.-tall clock tower.

Borgognoni is not positive, but he has two theories as to why the clock tower was removed. "There may have been some maintenance that needed to be done that would have cost a lot," he says. "But, more than anything, the attitude after World War II was to look to the future and a modern society – I think it was believed that the tower gave the station too much of an antiquated look." Either way, with the loss of its clock tower, the streamlined station was somewhat symbolic of the general decline of the downtown area.

Train service at the station was discontinued in 1971, and Borgognoni says it was likely vacant for much of the next 15 years. In 1985, with financing from Springfield resident Michael Scully, the station was stabilized and rehabilitated as a boutique shopping mall. By that time, many of the storefronts in the area were boarded up; a Goodyear tire shop occupied the southern portion of the block along Jefferson Street.

In 1999, after a decade of leasing the building for office use, the State of Illinois purchased Union Station. Under the direction of Julie Cellini, chairperson of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA), the state embarked on a new vision for the National Register of Historic Places-listed building. Eight years later, the restored and rehabilitated station – with its clock tower back in place – opened as the visitors' center for the ALPLM. According to Borgognoni, the ALPLM has had 1.6-million visitors since it opened in 2006; operating as the visitors' center, Union Station has had over 60,000 visitors since it was unveiled in the spring of 2007.

Perhaps most importantly, the entire complex has also had a positive economic impact on downtown Springfield as a whole. "These types of projects give business people the confidence to return to areas like this," says Borgognoni. "I don't think there's an empty storefront in all of downtown; they've all been restored – everything from little sandwich shops to boutiques."

White & Borgognoni's involvement began in 2000, when the firm undertook an assessment and historic structures report. Working closely with the IHPA, White & Borgognoni followed the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation, which mandate minimal changes to a building's defining characteristics and preservation of its historic character. "We identified the parts of the station that were original and the parts that were added slightly later, and we determined which areas were most critical," says Borgognoni. "The idea was to restore the exterior and rehabilitate the interior, and in the rehabilitation, come as close to restoration as possible."

Springfield-based Halverson Construction Co. began work on Union Station in 2005. In the interior, decorative wood trim, paneling and the historic maple floors were refinished and matched and replaced where missing or damaged beyond repair. New lighting was manufactured by St. Louis Antique Lighting; public restrooms were integrated into less historic areas; and a new heating/cooling system was installed in the basement and run through crawl space. In bringing the station up to current code, fire stairs were added at the extreme east and west ends of the building. The restored second floor now contains offices for the ALPLM and the "Looking for Lincoln" heritage tourism program. The historic waiting rooms on the first floor now serve as orientation galleries for the visitors' center.

On the exterior, restoration included re-pointing historic brick and stone; replacing terra-cotta roofing with matching tile (executed by New Lexington, OH-based Ludowici Roof Tile); and restoring the ornamental ironwork and wood windows. But the major undertaking on the exterior was the restoration of the 20-ft.-square clock tower to its 1898 appearance – a process aided by the original drawings and historic photographs from the IHPA.

White & Borgognoni's initial geo-technical investigation revealed "very poor soil" below the clock tower (which had been lopped off at the roofline), and groundwater was encountered less than 20 ft. below street level. Because the original foundation was too deteriorated to support the new internal steel structure (utilized because of wind-sheer concerns), concrete-filled steel caissons were used. "We drilled down about 60 ft. – 40 ft. down to bedrock and 20 ft. into bedrock – and 8-in.-dia. steel caissons were put down every 4-5 ft. on center and filled with concrete," says Borgognoni. "A 7-ft.-thick reinforced-concrete ring ties those together in the basement, and then the steel frame sits on top of that."

The steel frame was inserted without sacrificing the station's historic fabric; the skin of the tower is a masonry veneer of matching brick and terra cotta. Using the original drawings and historic photographs, Orchard Park, NY-based Boston Valley Terra Cotta created molds to reproduce the original ornate terra-cotta elements; the turrets were formed in site-cast reinforced concrete; and the clock was re-created – albeit an electronic version – by Medfield, MA-based Electric Time. While the plan was to paint the numerals and hands a gold color, Michael Scully stepped forward once again and financed gold leaf.

In 2005, White & Borgognoni was also tasked with turning the area south of Union Station into Union Square Park. Today, the park serves as a link between the museum, library and visitors' center. Many visitors come to the park first and then through the visitors' center, which Borgognoni says is really a concierge center for not only the museum and library, but also for all of the historic sites in Springfield. (White & Borgognoni also restored Abraham Lincoln's law offices – also known as the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office – a block south of Union Station a few years ago.)

Borgognoni is quick to point out that the Union Station project was a team effort, highlighting the efforts of Julie Cellini, chairperson of the IHPA; Bob Coomer, the recently retired director of the IHPA; Bob Weichert and Anthony Rubano of the IHPA; Gary Kitchen, the project manager from the Illinois Capital Development Board; and Halverson Construction, which Borgognoni says was dedicated to making the restoration and rehabilitation of Union Station a success. "This project really shows what people can do working together," he says. "It really changed the whole climate in downtown Springfield."  



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