Note: This is the first of two articles about the environmental initiatives incorporated into the Breckenridge Grand Vacations Community Center & Summit County South Branch Library renovation project. Look for the second part in the Summit Daily News on Sunday, Aug. 24. It is also the first of a monthly, five-part series detailing the vision, goals and benefits of the renovation leading up to its grand opening.
It’s not always simple to seamlessly meld the past and the present, but that is the goal with the renovation of the Harris Street building in Breckenridge.
The new space, called the Breckenridge Grand Vacations Community Center & Summit County South Branch Library, is due to be completed in early December. The firm in charge of the new design, Anderson Hallas Architects PC, describes the project as “a state-of-the-art blending of historic preservation and sustainability.”
Once thought to be mutually exclusive, these two philosophies are quite complementary, the firm said. The building was originally designed to utilize assets such as daylight for lighting and natural ventilation and to minimize energy consumption. The project aims to reclaim those historic techniques and enhance them for modern needs. From reusing materials to recycling scrap to tearing out walls and floors to improve air flow, the architects and contractors have slowly been bringing the building back to its former glory while remaining conscious of their carbon footprints.
START WITH A STRUCTURE
The best way to conserve energy is never to expend it in the first place, which is why using an existing building was the most important element to making the community center project environmentally friendly. By reusing a building, you eliminate the manufacturing and hauling of new materials to the site and celebrate a vital piece of the community’s history, the architects said.
“I think that the most impactful part that we’ve been able to salvage is the resource as a whole, the building,” said Liz Hallas, of Anderson Hallas, principal in charge of the project. “That’s the primary aspect. The greenest building is one that’s already been built, and this project in particular already speaks to that in many ways. The fact that the building is being reused is reducing the carbon footprint of demolishing a resource and building from the ground up.”
Graham Johnson, assistant project manager for Spectrum General Contractors and project engineer for the Harris Street renovation, said gutting the building and removing interior walls opened it up and brought back some of its original efficiencies.
“It’s pretty typical of a lot of historic buildings — ones that were built before air conditioning had been invented or anything like that — they were built with features to keep the buildings comfortable,” he said. “Operable windows, natural ventilation, high ceilings that allow for natural air flow through the building — those are all characteristics of older buildings.”
Over the years, as the building went through its many iterations, it was easier to add drop ceilings to run new wiring and piping, rather than running it through the walls, and the structure lost many of the features that made it efficient.
“In doing that, you lower the original ceiling and you lost some of that height that allows for good air flow,” Johnson said. “For a long time, there’s been a really big push for not having operable windows, to control temperatures in a sealed environment. Those windows were sealed shut or closed shut, and you have a mechanical system to make up for what you’ve taken away from the original building.”
Following through with the design from Anderson Hallas, the windows will be operable again to allow for ventilation, and the removal of the drop ceilings and the second floor over what will be the main library area will provide more airflow.
“You’ll get back the historic volume, an accurate historic representation of the space, but it’s also practical and functional for helping keep it comfortable,” Johnson said. “It’s a very common thing when renovating this kind of building where changes made 20, 30, 40 years ago hurt the original design.”
Before the contractors could get into the building and begin the interior demolition process, a team had to come through and assess the materials in the current structure and ensure a safe working environment for construction. This step is factored in before contractor bidding even begins, as it can often be a costly part of the renovation.
“Every old building we work in, there’s always those materials,” Johnson said of the asbestos and other archaic matter such as lead paint that can be found in old construction. “It’s a common part of historic preservation, restoration and renovation projects.”
“We had to go through a HAZMAT abatement process,” said Dale Stein, assistant town engineer for Breckenridge and the town’s project manager for the community center. “We had asbestos we had to take out of the building, get the building set up for construction; there was a whole abatement removal process before starting the construction.”
The abatement team went through and took out the known sections of asbestos, removing drywall. Through the whole demolition process, testing was continued to make sure there wasn’t any asbestos left behind for tenants and construction workers to deal with, Stein said.
The hazardous materials were removed in a way that is contained, so dust and other particles didn’t spread to the surrounding buildings or neighborhood. Protective equipment and clothing were used to prevent inhalation, and misting and spraying were often employed to keep the dust down, Johnson said.
“There’s lots of different types of processes used, based on the type of material and where it’s at,” he said.
The good news was that aside from the asbestos, there were no other known environmental or health hazards associated with the renovation.
“No other sort of underground tanks or other environmental concerns out here,” Stein said. “Everything was pretty clear.”
Using local subcontractors was another important piece of the environmental puzzle. The shorter the distance crews have to travel from home base to the job site, the fewer diesel emissions created by the trucks and other equipment.
“One of the things that the town kind of set forth very early was they encouraged the use of businesses and subcontractors who were located up here,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a lot of good luck using mostly local stuff.”
By necessity, some of the bigger, more specialized elements, such as the digital cinema equipment for the new Speakeasy Theater, had to be sourced from the Front Range, Johnson said, but at least two-thirds of the subcontractors Spectrum has been working with are based in Summit.
“Everybody has been really great to work with up here,” he said. “Being up here, we bought a lot of materials locally; Breckenridge Building Center and other local distributors we’ve worked with closely.”
Other local contributors include Spirit Builders, Summit Construction Specialties Inc. and Triangle Electric in Breckenridge. Orr Concrete in Dillon handled structural concrete, and Cooks Welding in Silverthorne created the ornamental and structural steel for the building. Though Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber was not a specific requirement of the project, responsibly manufactured components have been used whenever possible.
“When it’s available, we use those kinds of materials and try to keep an eye out for anything like that,” Johnson said.