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Palladio Awards

Project: Eisenhower Ridge Building 19, Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center Campus, Leavenworth, KS

Architect: Treanor Architects, Kansas City, MO; Joy L. Coleman, AIA, principal-in-charge

General Contractor: Straub Construction, Shawnee, KS




Adaptive Reuse

Winner: Treanor Architects, P.A.

Saved from the Brink

By Annabel Hsin

The former Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center, located on 50 acres of bucolic landscape in Leavenworth, KS, is home to a collection of historic buildings originally constructed between 1886 and 1960. For a century, the campus' mess hall, recreation hall and residences throughout served aging and disabled soldiers. The park-like setting overlooks the Missouri River toward the east and valleys of the city on the north and west – its winding roads, clay-tile curbs and a lake have been attributed to well-known landscape architect H. W. S. Cleveland.

In 1999, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its historic, architectural and landscape significance. However, the following year, 38 of its buildings were placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list after the VA slated these buildings for demolition. The medical center had previously been relocated and the buildings were vacated for several years. Dismayed at the VA's decision, preservation activists appealed to developers to create a plan for reuse. The buildings were saved when the VA signed a 75-year lease with Pioneer Group. Treanor Architects, with offices in Kansas, Missouri and Texas, were brought on to develop a master plan for the 38 buildings, now renamed the Eisenhower Ridge Development.

When a call for location proposals for VA's Central Plains Consolidated Patient Account Center (CPAC) was made in 2008, Pioneer and Treanor responded with plans to rehabilitate and reuse Building 19 – a Romanesque Revival mess hall and auditorium built in 1886. The stout brick building, which had been vacant for 15 years, fit the requirement of accommodating a state-of-the-art office for 400 employees but the interiors had suffered severe water damage from an open roof. "Our design goal was to restore the building to its period of significance, which we determined to be the original construction in the 1880s, and to maintain, preserve and restore as much of the original building as possible," says principal Joy L. Coleman, AIA. "We felt it was important to preserve the original building's sense of space. This building fit the program well because of its large open spaces and CPAC wanted open offices."

The design team determined the building's original architectural elements by studying historic images and documents. They discovered that the west façade was originally constructed with an iron two-story front porch that had been concealed by a green curtain wall in the 1970s. "We found that some of the porch elements were still intact," says Coleman. "We developed a plan to remove the curtain wall and to restore the porch. With all that was there – some scrollwork at the top of columns, rods that tied back to the brick wall and a few connection points at the railing – we could determine the original design. Of course, the original missing railing wouldn't comply with current codes so we decreased the spacing of the railings with the new design."

To create additional space, the partially underground first level was repurposed as offices, a conference room, a data center and mechanical storage. The slab-on-grade concrete floor had been poured in place but was drastically uneven and a leveled surface was necessary for the furniture system. "The floor appeared to be in good condition but when we took some survey points, we determined that there were some low and high spots," says Coleman. "We had a strict requirement to meet a minimum eight-foot ceiling height so we ended up removing about one-third of the floor along the west wall, which worked out well because the data center required a recessed floor pit."

On the second level, a floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall installed on the porch creates a vestibule and protects the original historic double doors from the elements. An existing drop ceiling was removed to reveal exposed steel beams and round medallion capitals. Period light fixtures and acoustic panels were mounted in the spaces between steel beams. A raised-floor system conceals new MEP, HVAC and data systems, as well as water-source heat pumps that efficiently heat the open high-ceilinged office space.

The stairs in the northwest tower, the most intact of the four original stair towers, were restored to their original appearance and feature carved wood balusters and newel posts, painted stairs, bead board, plaster walls and tall narrow windows. They lead to the porch on the third level, which was enclosed with a recessed glass curtain wall to create a break room that overlooks the campus landscape. A set of double doors open to the former ballroom, now an office with restored vaulted ceilings, ornate wood capitals and painted steel columns; a new raised floor for mechanical systems was also installed on this level.

"There was a historic stage in the space that is now used for a restroom and data closet," says Coleman. "The trickiest part was complying with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards in this area. We wanted to recognize the space as a stage but needed to fill it with functional space. We set the wall for the rooms back from the stage edge and built a ceiling that is not the full height of the stage. From a distance, the original stage volume is visible and it looks like the rooms were built inside the stage."

A new mezzanine level was added to the 1910 two-story kitchen addition on the east side of the building for training rooms. Through the years, the kitchen had been retrofitted with room-sized coolers and no longer retained its historic character. After inappropriate modifications were removed, the team found that the structure couldn't support the load of another level. As a result, a freestanding structural floor system was built inside the original building shell. In addition to training rooms, the kitchen addition now houses offices, mechanical storage and a warehouse.

The exterior's limestone base, masonry and wood windows were all cleaned and restored by Peerless Restoration of Decatur, IL. The damaged roof was removed and replaced with a roof membrane system (supplied by Wayne, NJ-based GAF) and asphalt shingles (manufactured by Kearny, NJ-based Owens Corning). An accessible entrance was created on the south façade by lowering the site grade to the entry level and a secondary stairwell was built in the southeast tower for egress. The existing second-level side entry was concealed using salvaged bricks and local limestone.

Other key suppliers include Monett, MO-based EFCO (curtain wall); Hamel, MN-based Maxxon Corp. (gypcrete); Jessup, MD-based Tate Access Floors (raised floor systems); and Valley Forge, PA-based CertainTeed (insulation).

Treanor Architects has successfully transformed Eisenhower Ridge's Building 19 into a functioning state-of-the-art office while preserving the building's historic character and integrity. Completed in July of 2011, the $14-million project was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that was attended by the governor, a senator and local city officials, and it was recently recognized with a 2012 Palladio Award for its successful adaptive reuse. TB



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