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Big-box Store Gets a Second Life After Green Make-over

We often see empty, underutilized buildings throughout our communities. The dilapidated warehouse, an abandoned strip mall, empty stores; each of these tell stories of recession, the flight to the suburbs, changes in the way we shop, and finding our way with new technologies.

What if these existing buildings could be repurposed to help strengthen our communities instead of leaving a void? Rice Fergus Miller’s adaptive re-use work has focused on big box / retail and warehouse renovations – to transform abandoned buildings into places where we work, gather as a community, and, through strategic green building practices become models of sustainability.

Adaptive re-use projects are innately sustainable; the greenest building is the one already standing.

Re-used sites offer attractive benefits; they are centrally located with ample parking and typically a strong existing shell and core that can be used and built upon. The infill of existing building stock can reduce urban sprawl and offer new ways to think about unstoppable growth and development, while at the same time acknowledging the heritage of the site.

Big-box retail to office conversion

Rice Fergus Miller worked with the King County Housing Authority to bring together previously separated KCHA departments into a Central Annex Office Facility in Tukwila, Washington. This complete renovation of an existing 36,000 square foot single-level former big-box store promotes KCHA’s desire to create a cohesive environment and be a more integrated agency. The spacious, converted retail/warehouse space provides work areas that are flexible, have high ceilings, are filled with day light, and help provide for efficient work and employee comfort.

With a limited budget of under $95 per square foot Rice Fergus Miller and our mechanical engineer, Ecotope, created an energy-efficient design that uses one-third the energy of their previous office buildings with an Energy Use Intensity of 26.  As this project earned the title Energy Resurrection at the Strip Mall, from the ASHRAE Journal, the office space uses 50% less energy and 25% less water than their nearby executive office space.  Energy-efficiency features include new double low-e insulated glazing systems, Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV), Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) 50 zone heat pump system, large skylights with internal light shelves, dimming lighting controls for corridors, and occupancy controls on all lights in rooms with doors.

This high performing building was awarded second place nationally for the ASHRAE Technology Award in the Commercial Buildings – Existing category. The central annex office also received Energy Star certification from the federal government. With a score of 98/100 for energy efficiency, KCHA has one of the most efficient office buildings in the nation.

Warehouse to office conversion

Rice Fergus Miller has designed a combined administrative office for the Tongass National Forest and the Sitka Ranger District, currently under construction, in Sitka, Alaska. The project involves a practical solution to renovate an existing warehouse into office space, and adapt an existing shop building for storage needs.

The new office space will have radiant floor heating, heat recovery ventilation, and a projected EUI of 30. Building on the concept of using the Forest Service resources, biomass is the primary heat source for this administrative building. With Southeast Alaska’s reliance on heating oil and their extremely limited supply of hydro-electricity, projects like this become a model for how towns like Sitka can grow, without burdening the residents with additional infrastructure costs.

The existing two-story, 10,892 square foot, wood-framed warehouse will become comfortable and efficient new office space. The exterior of the two structures are being designed to fit the context and character of historic Sitka, as well as the Forest Service’s Built Environment Image Guide.

The renovation of the exterior walls including new siding, insulation, flashing, building wrap, doors, windows, with the intent to make the entire building weather tight.

Military bunker to community center

Forest City Military Communities (now Hunt Companies) is working to redevelop the Landings (formerly Jackson Park Navy housing), a former Navy Ammunition Depot during WW I and WW II, and renovate other military housing at the Bangor Naval Submarine Base, in Kitsap County, Washington.  The project includes complete interior and exterior renovation of over 350 1975-era housing units, and the repurposing of an existing ammunition bunker to become the new community center.

Rather than let the bunker continue to be an eyesore, Forest City and Rice Fergus Miller took the opportunity to adapt an existing ammunition bunker into a community center. These bunkers (only three remain on the site) are the last vestige of the site’s war heritage, and instead of tearing them down, one was repurposed to recall history, reduce the carbon footprint of new construction, and take advantage of the construction to address Navy requirements for force protection.

The 5,000 square foot bunker includes a multi-purpose community room with a kitchen, fitness room with children’s play area, leasing office and presentation space. This vibrant, renovated bunker helps retain the military heritage of the area. Strategically placed windows help bring in daylight while meeting the requirements for blast resistant construction. The mechanical system coupled with new insulation strategies help drive the buildings energy use down resulting in greater efficiency. VRF/ERV HVAC system coupled with new insulation strategies help drive the buildings energy use down.

This bunker turned community center anchors a redeveloped low-income naval housing community and brings a sense of place and relevant identity it previously lacked.

These adaptive re-use buildings are comfortable, designed to last, and use materials and energy as efficiently as possible. Re-use is one way we can do the right thing for our community, our clients, and our employees. Rice Fergus Miller is a Certified B Corporation.  B Corporations are for-profit companies, independently certified, that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

– Greg Belding is an architect and principal at Rice Fergus Miller where he focuses on high performing, energy-efficient projects.

– Elin Headrick is an associate and marketing director at Rice Fergus Miller.