Historic Renovation Brings Home the Gold

When Scott Ashford, head of Oregon State University’s School of Civil and Construction Engineering, talks with students at freshman orientation about green construction, he walks them through the newly renovated Kearney Hall and shows them what makes this a LEED Gold-Certified building. Ashford points out the exposed new structural steel members, which provide seismic support within the historic building envelope. Students take note of the heavy timber building materials that were salvaged and repurposed from the original structure. Ashford encourages students to be “hands on” and touch the exposed rebar accessible through cutouts into the building’s walls. “Last week I talked with a student who was intently watching the glass-enclosed elevator going up and down to learn how the pistons move the elevator unit from floor to floor,” said Ashford. “This is a terrific building, and we use it every day as a teaching tool.”

The LEED-Gold certified renovation of Oregon State University’s (OSU) Kearney Hall demonstrates how to successfully balance history and sustainability within a modern learning environment designed so that the building itself becomes a teaching tool.

Historic Building
Built in 1899 as OSU’s Mechanical Hall, the venerable gray granite and sandstone building was expanded and renamed Apperson Hall in 1918. Through ensuing decades, Apperson Hall housed OSU’s growing engineering and construction management programs in a building that was historically significant, but in need of a monumental renovation.

In 2005, the University selected a design team led by the Portland-based firm of SERA for the complex renovation project. In choosing SERA as the project’s architect, OSU reaffirmed their campus-wide commitment to increasing sustainability and green construction practices. “SERA’s historic renovation experience, the firm’s leadership in sustainable design, and their ability to collaborate with stakeholders throughout the process proved to be the right combination for Kearney Hall,” according to Greg Strombeck, project manager for Oregon State University Facilities Services Design and Construction.

When it became apparent that there were no public funds available to renovate the building, more than 800 alumni and friends were inspired to donate money. The $12M, 31,000-sq.-ft. renovation was funded entirely with private money generated through fundraising based on maintaining OSU’s heritage of engineering excellence while building a new 21st-century facility to educate students for the next 100 years. In 2009, OSU celebrated the grand opening of the newly renovated facility, which was renamed Kearney Hall to recognize a large gift to the project from 1963 civil engineering graduate Lee Kearney.

While OSU’s original intent was to maintain the existing timber frame and preserve the historic exterior, further investigation revealed an unreinforced masonry building, a foundation built on rubble, columns missing footings, and a 4-in. slope and sag in the building’s floors. A team from SERA Architects worked with Hoffman Construction Company to create a new steel structure that would slip seamlessly into the building’s existing envelope, providing seismic reinforcement as well as flexibility, in order to locate new program elements such as a large auditorium and a crystalline central atrium.

For OSU, as well as the design and construction team, the renovation of Kearney Hall was a remarkable accomplishment. “It is highly unusual to totally gut a 100-year old building from the roof down, install a steel reinforcement cage on the inside, and completely renovate the building interior to be a modern classroom, laboratory, and research environment,” said Strombeck.

Sustainable Solutions
Even though the Kearney Hall project was privately funded, as a State of Oregon building, the renovation was required to meet criteria equivalent to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification. While SERA considers sustainable design and planning to be a basic responsibility in every project, it is much more difficult to achieve LEED certification for a historic renovation project, due to a myriad of existing constraints. For Kearney Hall, constraints included maintaining the historic building envelope with its small window openings intact, restoring the historic roof profile, and upgrading thermal performance of the original masonry exterior walls.

Oregon State University faculty, staff, and students collaborated with the design and construction team to update this turn-of-the-century building in an environmentally responsible way. Incorporation of salvaged materials, water-saving strategies, building envelope enhancements, and use of local and recycled materials comprise some of the new building features. A digital, interactive touchscreen in the main lobby displays energy use and other building data.

Teaching Tool
Because this building had long housed the University’s engineering and construction programs, OSU had a clear goal for the renovation to serve as a teaching tool for students and faculty. The design team collaborated closely with faculty and user groups through brainstorming sessions to create an environment designed to engage students in the learning process.

The building’s exposed structural systems — both concrete shear walls and steel — visually express the multiple systems required for major construction projects. Rather than the typical process of wrapping with sheetrock, Kearney Hall’s new non-rated steel structure was left with a “clear coat” finish, allowing students to see how the steel comes together with mechanical fasteners and welded joints at various locations in the building.

“We chose early on to leave major components within the building exposed by creating windows in walls and floors so students can see rebar and interior conduits,” explained Strombeck. “When we talk with students about sprinkler lines and valves, they are right in front of us for everyone to see what is actually happening.”

The building’s soaring atrium features a glass-enclosed elevator, which provides students a view of the elevator mechanics in operation. To celebrate the artistic nature of design and construction professions, the glass shaft is etched with artwork celebrating structural engineering feats that have evolved through history, such as arches and trusses. The dramatic mobiles suspended in the atrium space also evoke construction techniques.

The University’s goals to maintain the best of Kearney Hall’s history, increase campus sustainability, and use the renovated building as a teaching tool required a high level of specialized knowledge, collaborative brainstorming, and detailed execution from the project team.

“The project turned out so well because there was a sense of teamwork and a tone of giving back as alumni,” according to Kevin Cady, operations manager for Hoffman Construction. “Knowing that the building would help shape the construction industry’s future workforce added to our already strong sense of responsibility for the renovation.”

Hoffman expanded their project team to include paid internships for three students from OSU’s Civil Engineering and Construction Engineering Management program who assisted with LEED coordination/documentation, construction oversight, and project closeout. Following graduation, the students were hired as full-time Hoffman employees.

 “The renovated building has a spirit that faculty, students, and alumni have responded to with enthusiasm,” said Strombeck. “Kearney Hall is not only a very beautiful building that expands our teaching opportunities, but it was built entirely with private money, completed ahead of schedule and under budget, and it is LEED-Gold certified.”

Natasha Koiv IIDA, LEED-AP
, is an associate principal with SERA, a Portland, OR-based architecture, urban planning, and interior design firm with a focus on sustainable and green design. She can be reached at 503/445-7310 or via e-mail at natashak@serapdx.com.

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