Converted hospital survives flooding, preserves rich history.
When Vermont’s former Governor Peter Shumlin cut the ribbon to reopen the Waterbury State Office Complex in Dec. 2015, it was more than a run-of-the-mill ribbon-cutting ceremony. It was a symbol of perseverance for the community.
Originally built in 1890 as the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane, at its highest capacity in the 1950s, the institution served as home to more than 1,500 patients suffering from mental disabilities, epilepsy, addiction, and other issues. Over the years, as treatment methods changed, the hospital was gradually converted into state offices for the Agency of Human Services and the Agency of Natural Resources.
In August 2011, tropical storm Irene hit the Northeast and ravaged Vermont. The small town of Waterbury was among the hardest hit, and the 40 buildings that made up the Waterbury State Office Complex flooded, some with as much as 8 ft. of water.
Fast forward and the historic 100-acre campus now represents one of the State of Vermont’s largest construction projects to date. With an estimated total cost of $130 million, it serves as an innovative example of a successful adaptive-reuse project.
Over the years, the office complex had become central to the town of Waterbury’s economy. More than 1,400 employees staff the complex, a substantial amount in a small town with a population near 5,000. Vermont state officials quickly realized the significance of the flood and the economic impact it would have on the community. Along with the state’s Department of Building and General Services, it enlisted Burlington, VT-based architecture, planning, and interior design firm, Freeman French Freeman Inc. to help lead the reconstruction project.
The firm’s first task was to complete an exhaustive analysis for the site. The main priority was to build a comfortable new home for the state’s largest agency, the Agency of Human Services. However, with the damage to the buildings and the site’s proximity to the Winooski River, it wasn’t a given that the existing site was the right place to do it.
“With funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state of Vermont, as well as private insurance, a huge consideration in this project was the big fiscal picture,” said Jesse Robbins, project architect at Freeman French Freeman Inc. “We wanted to ensure that we could provide the best value for the state of Vermont and the taxpayer’s dollar.”
The team looked at several different sites and various options for the Waterbury complex before making the decision to rebuild and restore buildings on the existing site.
Preservation and the future
The core vision of the project was simple. To create an enduring building and healthy workplace for the Vermont Agency for Human Services while preserving the rich history of the Waterbury State Office Complex.
The original plan for the buildings was designed by Boston-based architecture firm Rand & Taylor in the 1800s, known for designing hospitals as well as grand, well-recognized hotels. In addition, the hospital had been an integral part of the Waterbury community for many years. Locals and their family members were treated there and went on to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to society. It was important to hold on to the history and meaning to the community in the project restoration.
Multiple design objectives were required to realize this vision. Resilience was crucial to creating a durable building to protect against future flooding and other natural disasters. Additionally, while the flood had made its mark on the buildings, it wasn’t just the visible damage that needed to be repaired. Occupant comfort had long been an issue. Old, single-pane windows, antiquated central heat, and a lack of central air conditioning made working conditions less than optimal during cold winters and hot, humid summers. As a result, it was important to enhance occupant comfort, provide for productive working conditions, and obtain a high level of energy efficiency. LEED-Gold certification was a goal from the onset of the project.
A Model Approach
Freeman French Freeman Inc. staff worked closely with the state of Vermont, Boston-based preservation architect Goody Clancy, and a host of local contractors, engineering, and consultants to develop plans to restore the sprawling 100-acre campus.
“One of the unique things about this project was the level of collaboration involved. We brought the key players together at the onset to review every detail of the building envelope,” said Robbins. “Together we evaluated, researched, and made changes to the building envelope. This simple action built a tremendous amount of goodwill and positivity amongst the team, which was critical to the success of such a large-scale project.”
When construction commenced, 21 flood-prone buildings–about 350,000 sq. ft. of unusable space–were deconstructed to make space for a new 86,000-sq.-ft. office building to house approximately 1,000 employees at the Vermont Agency of Human Services. Thirteen historic structures were preserved, adapted, and reused. As part of the desire to develop a more comfortable working environment and ensure long-term use of the facility, a 20,000-sq.-ft. central heating and cooling facility was added. All buildings were built above the 500-year flood plain to protect against future damage.
At the core of the project was energy efficiency. The state of Vermont set out to achieve a fenestration assembly U-factor of 0.24 Btu/hr·ft2·°F or better at NFRC 100 model sizes. YKK AP America Inc., the Austell, GA-based aluminum facades manufacturer, was chosen to provide its enerGfacade brand of energy-efficient building solutions to meet this strict requirement while providing the desired aesthetic for new and existing facilities. The company’s high-performance YOW 350 XT fixed and operable windows, YCW 750 XT and YOW 750 OG curtain walls, and YES 45 F-I/S storefront were used to complete the complex.
“Energy efficiency was one of the most critical aspects of this project for two reasons. First, resilience. Operable windows and a strong building envelope reduce the energy load, so in the event of a future emergency, we can make more of the building functional with the same amount of generator power,” said Robbins. “Second, employees needed to feel healthy, comfortable, and productive–at any time of year. YKK AP was able to demonstrate via its thermal modeling how its products would perform by showing how energy would escape the building.”
In addition to the high performance required, fast installation and a demanding timeline was critical to the success of the project.
“To provide a quick turnaround on installation, the team needed to get creative,” said David Warden, enerGfacade brand manager for YKK AP America Inc. “We customized our aluminum fenestration products to specifically suit the needs of the project. The team even developed a custom piece that allowed our windows to snap together to provide for faster installation and improved energy performance while reducing the sightlines on the building.”
In order to achieve the desired fenestration assembly U-factor, the company provided framing solutions that allowed triple glazing. With a warm edge spacer from Technoform to achieve a 0.24 U-factor with YOW 350 XT and a 0.19 U-factor with the YCW 750 XT curtain wall initial specifications were met and exceeded. The products were tested throughout the course of the project by an independent Envelope Commissioning Agent to ensure success.
The collaborative effort from the design team paid off. Today the Waterbury State Office Complex is significantly more efficient, achieving a modeled 56% energy-use savings over the code-compliant baseline resulting in 41% energy-cost savings. Additionally, the new central plant now houses two wood-fired biomass boilers fueled with low-cost, locally and sustainably harvested wood chips. The project is on track to receive LEED Gold Certification in mid-2017 and is near the threshold of Platinum certification.
In late 2015 and early 2016, the office complex reopened its doors to more than 900 state employees, and the town of Waterbury welcomed with open arms the return of workers to the community shops and restaurants. What was once a beautiful and historic campus has stayed true to its roots, while integrating a mix of modern and traditional architecture with striking spans of glass and beautiful green space. Designed for comfort and to protect against future floods and natural disasters, the facility is now a great source of pride for the State of Vermont, its employees, and the town of Waterbury.