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Historic Double Platinum

Project: The Christman Building, Lansing, MI

Architect: SmithGroup, Detroit, MI; D. Brooke Smith, AIA, LEED AP, principal in charge

Construction Manager: The Christman Company, Lansing, MI; Ronald Staley, FAPT, senior vice president

LEED Certification: Platinum CI and Platinum CS

By Martha McDonald

A dilapidated, 80 year-old, five-story building in downtown Lansing, MI. A growing construction and development firm with a reputation for very fine historic preservation work. These two recently came together and the result was more than one plus one equals two. In this case, it equaled a lot more than that. The end result here added up to three – the preservation of an historic building, a contribution to the revitalization of the downtown area, and sustainable design. So sustainable, in fact, that it received two Platinum LEED certifications, CS for Core and Shell and CI for Commercial Interiors, making it the first structure to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification under two different ratings systems.

Built in 1928 under the shadow of Michigan's Capitol, the U-shaped, 60,000-sq.ft. red-brick building was originally headquarters for the Michigan Millers' Mutual Fire Insurance Co. Christman's real estate development arm, Christman Capitol Development Company, put together a plan to create a new image for Christman's national headquarters, which supports offices in Michigan, Washington, DC, and Augusta, GA. Under the design direction of SmithGroup of Detroit, MI, (the firm has offices throughout the U.S.) the obsolescent building was converted into contemporary, Class A headquarters for The Christman Company and two tenants, the Michigan Municipal League and the lobbying firm of Kelley Cawthorne.

In addition to saving and restoring an historic building that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the SmithGroup and Christman Co. also incorporated sustainability into the design "In this case we had a terrific client who was committed to raising the bar from a sustainability perspective, which was only one facet of the project," says Brooke Smith, AIA, LEED AP, SmithGroup, principal in charge. "They [Christman] were committed to making a strong statement to the community, to sustainability and to preserving this significant architecture in their own backyard."

"We knew upfront it would be a LEED project," says Ron Staley, senior vice president of The Christman Company. "We decided to go for core and shell for the entire building and then for another certification, commercial interiors, on our three floors. We planned from the beginning to be as green as we could, but we didn't realize we could be Platinum on either part at the beginning. During the work, we began to realize it was achievable. What we realized with this project is that a contractor could actually show people how to achieve Platinum LEED ratings on an historic building."

"It was a wonderful partnership," Smith adds. "We really both came to the table in a collaborative partnership. We were all committed from the beginning to take a holistic approach to the project. It wasn't the typical design process where the architect does the design and then hands it over to the construction firm. They were involved in the design from the beginning and we were involved in the construction process to the very end. We developed common strategies to challenges; and worked closely together."

"There were challenges," Smith notes. "One was the economic issue. Clearly, in today's environment, owners need to pursue every funding option at their disposal. In this instance, SmithGroup worked with Christman to secure $2.5 million in historic preservation tax credits which were key to making this project viable. Without those, and other special funding instruments, it would have been very difficult for Christman to complete the project. It took a great deal of creativity on the part of the owner to put that package together."

Another challenge that Smith cited was the windows. "The Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Rehabilitation (compliance is required to qualify for tax credits) and LEED objectives did clash in some areas. The main one was with windows. The Secretary's standards are very strict on what you can do, as it relates to sightlines, profiles and glazing. Generally you find yourself pursing a restoration of existing windows."

"From a sustainability perspective, we would have preferred to remove the original character-defining windows and replaced them with energy efficient ones. We decided not to pursue a specific LEED initiative because we did not want to risk losing the tax credits" Smith notes. "So there are a few instances where goals and requirements from the Secretary of the Interior did, in fact, clash with goals of LEED, but you can work around it."

"As a preservationist I understand that LEED is not the answer for everything," says Staley. "We realize that saving the building is the most important thing you can do. The LEED scoring probably doesn't give us as much credit as we would have liked for saving an existing historic building, but I think USGB will get there. It will just take some time. The bigger part of the market is still new construction."

"Our existing office in Lansing – we had been there since 1928 – had been renovated numerous times, but couldn't add to it because it was in a flood plain," Staley notes. "Just as were exploring options to increase our space, this building became available. Because of the location, history and unique architecture, we realized it was time to move. Downtown Lansing is like other industrial cities. There were a lot of buildings to choose from. This one is near the Michigan Capitol, one of The Christman Company's first major historic preservation projects, and was great architecture, so it was a perfect fit for us," he adds.

One of the major factors contributing to the efficiency of the building is the new high-efficiency under-floor HVAC system. "Environmentally, it is a better system than traditional ducted systems," says Staley. "It also allowed us to keep the heights on the windows, because we didn't have to put duct work in the ceiling. This helped on the LEED scoring because of the day-lighting, but it also meant you had to put the whole floor in before starting the partitions. It was a different construction sequence."

Staley says that Christman considered geothermal, but it would not work in this location. "The site wasn't conducive, even for a deep well," he says. "The end result was magnificent and was certainly worth the cost." Putting in raised access flooring helped with points and also helped with allowing natural day-lighting into 92 percent of the building.

Another significant change to the building was the addition of a sixth floor, recessed so it's not visible from the street, and the addition of the atrium that is accessible from the fifth and sixth floors. (There is also a basement, so the building actually has seven floors.) Originally the design concept of the sixth floor was to provide better views of the nearby Michigan Capitol, but as the program developed, the designers realized they could also incorporate a large conference and board room in the space.

Extending over the space between the legs of the U-shaped building, the new 1,056-sq.ft. atrium creates an inner courtyard now known as Christman Square. It adds both floor space and day-lighting to the building and has become a gathering area at the heart of the Christman workspace, with informal seating clusters, a coffee bar and plants. "There is a nice sense of intimacy and scale about the atrium," says Smith. "It is not a large cavernous space. The Christman people do a lot of work there."

One of SmithGroup's priorities was creating a contemporary hybrid office environment, and the atrium fits that goal. "They [Christman] came from a very traditional work environment that didn't promote collaboration. We came up with flexible hybrid solutions to fit their needs, a blend of spaces for the work environment with amenities to promote collaboration. The atrium was just one of those amenities."

The preservation of the main stairway that connects all floors was another project priority. At some point, it had been covered with bright orange quarry tile. "We can't figure out why this was added," says Staley, "but we took all of it out and restored the original bluestone and Pewabic tile on the stairway and entry way. It is absolutely beautiful." In addition, the original blue-green finish on the iron handrail was restored all the way to the fifth floor. It had been painted black.

Another challenge was handicap access. During the history of the building, at least five different handicap lifts had been added to stairs from the basement to the first floor. "The entry was ugly," says Staley. SmithGroup and Christman were able to remove these lifts, put in a new elevator and to restore all of the original bluestone flooring in the entry.

The restoration of the first-floor executive offices was another priority. The newly restored offices now show off their original walnut paneling and ceilings profiles, creating "an absolutely gorgeous space," says Staley.

Windows throughout the building were also addressed. The original steel sash windows in the back and on the sides of the building were replaced with matching aluminum historic profiles, while the ones inside the atrium were kept and retrofitted with clear glass. The wood windows on the front of the building were restored by Re-View, who added insulated glass. The replacement windows were manufactured by TRACO of Cranberry Township, PA, and installed by BlackBerry Systems of Kalamazoo, MI.

The exterior stone and brick masonry of the building was meticulously restored by Cusack's Masonry Restoration, Hubbardston, MI, including the limestone detailing, and the bronze doors that are now back in operation.

Another "green" feature is the white roof that minimizes solar gain. The building wasn't large enough for a green roof, so a white membrane was installed over the entire roof surface and a walk-out terrace, comprised of concrete pavers with a high solar-reflective index, was added. It provides an outdoor meeting space and includes plantings. The roof was installed by Modern Roofing of Dorr, MI. Reduced exterior lighting, task lighting, occupancy sensors, programmed timers in common areas, day-lighting for 92 percent of occupants, and Energy Star office equipment and appliances contribute to the efficiency of the building. Low-flow fixtures reduce water consumption by 40 percent.

In addition, reusing existing materials and components was a goal. For example, 92 percent of the existing walls were reused, as were front windows, historic light fixtures, door hardware, flooring, wall tiles and wood trim, as well as most of the company's former office furnishings. Recycled and regionally manufactured materials and low-emission sealants, paints, carpets and furniture were used extensively. All wood was FSC certified. Also, extensive recycling diverted 77 percent of construction debris (by weight) from the landfill.

Staley says that the success of this project contributed to the National Register registration of a nearby section of downtown Lansing, which he thinks will contribute to the revitalization of the area. "We couldn't have done this without the historic tax credits," he adds. "We are hopeful that others will follow this example."

The Christman headquarters project was able to take advantage of State of Michigan Brownfield Single Business Tax credits; Federal Historic Tax Credits; State Historic Tax Credits; Federal New Market Tax Credits and property tax relief through establishment of a Federal Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act District.

The 12-month, (plus six months in the design phase) $12-million renovation project was completed in February, 2008 and The Christman Company was able to move into its new headquarters. The firm is continuing to restore historic buildings in the area. It recently purchased a 1938 Art Deco power plant that it is being converted into a 280,000-sq.ft. office building, using the same financial, preservation and sustainability tools.

According to Christman, the cost of achieving LEED core and shell (CS) represented 1.3 percent of the total budget and two-thirds of those costs were related to the LEED certification process. For the Commercial Interior (CI) portion, the costs represented 0.70 percent of the total budget and 95 percent of that was related to LEED certification.

"What this project demonstrates is that you can achieve Platinum with an historic building in a downtown area with conventional historical preservation work," says Staley. "There are no wind turbines or photovoltaic cells attached to the building. This is very conventional historical preservation; we didn't push the envelope in ways that concern a lot of preservationists."

"This is a great model that demonstrates that sustainability and preservation can work very well together," says Smith. "Of course, what is greener than maintaining an existing building, especially if you can redevelop it to become useful as a 21st century office building?" TB

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