Managing a Retrofit To Preserve History

  April 18, 2013

Even a building with stunning architecture needs a makeover eventually. After more than 80 years of service to the state of California, the time for a makeover finally came for the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building in Sacramento.

Considered a masterwork of neo-classical design, the library and courts building was built in 1928 and named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The building covers 188,000 square feet, six floors, and a full basement.

Preserving the grandeur of its early 20th Century style while bringing 21st Century energy efficiency was the primary goal of the $65 million project, says Pella McCormick, project director with California's Department of General Services.

Once construction crews got inside the walls to renovate plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, they braced for curveballs that might come their way.

"It was actually like a treasure hunt between the walls," McCormick says. "The way they built this thing was like there's massive exterior masonry walls, and what you see inside them is like plaster over black iron. It looks very massive on the inside, and it's really kind of a shell, somewhere between 8 inches and 3 feet of cavity between the shell and actual structure of the building."

More surprises loomed as the crew renovated a plumbing system that had been worked on over the years but only in piecemeal fashion. McCormick says that was one of the project's bigger challenges.

"There had been so many renovations over the years that when we started opening up walls and ceilings, what we found in no way resembled any of the documentation we had," she says. "We basically initiated some of the demolition and had a team from the designers and contractors work together to document the entire plumbing layout. They basically had to redesign the entire plumbing system on the fly — a fairly monumental task so as to not affect any of the ongoing construction."

The plumbing system was updated with standard copper pipes and cast-iron waste lines and some of the old cast-iron porcelain fixtures were reused. They also installed low-flow faucets that use 0.5 gallons of water per minute (gpm), toilets that use 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf), and urinals that use 0.125 gpf. Early projections indicate the changes could produce a potential 55 percent decrease in potable water usage.


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