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Retrofit/Renovation Under $350K

History, Surrounded by High-Rises

photo and award logo
by Valerie Stakes
Associate Editor
Penton, Inc.

When Mark Kent passed by a vacant brick building located in downtown Greenville, SC, he didn’t just see prospective commercial property; he also saw an opportunity to restore a piece of the past.

This turn-of-the-century building is located in a historic district of Greenville surrounded by new high-rises. It features brick and mortar construction with heart pine beams. The floors are heart pine tongue-and-groove with hardwood overlay.

Listed on the National Historical Registry, the property has gone through several incarnations, beginning as The American Cigar Factory, where hand-rolled cigars were produced. After the Depression, the building housed several cut and sew operations, including manufacturers of military uniforms, men’s dress shirts, children’s apparel, and most recently, soccer uniforms made by sportswear manufacturer Umbro. When Umbro sold its U.S. operations, the building became vacant.

Kent, owner of the textile firm Kent Manufacturing, saw this location as ideal for office, retail, and restaurant space and wanted to restore the building’s interior to its original glory. Renovation of the building, however, was no easy task. There were multiple coats of lead-based paint covering the brick and woodwork, requiring extensive abatement. Also, city codes required the addition of a second stairwell and more restrooms.

Keeping with the building’s turn-of-the-century look, Kent added a tower that matched the original design, as well as an elaborate glass link system between the two buildings with connecting bridges constructed of wrought-iron steel.

Kent’s concern with aesthetics, however, wasn’t limited to architectural design; he also wanted a mechanical system that would keep tenants comfortable and not detract from the beauty of the building’s interior and exterior.

Since a special system requires a special contractor, Tuck & Howell was brought on board the project by general contractor Trey McCraw of McCraw & Associates. The company is led by Jerry Tuck, who is widely recognized for his ability to work with period retrofits and who has been involved in the system design for many historic structures in downtown Greenville.

Furthermore, the two companies had completed several historic Design/Build jobs together, and Kent was already familiar with Tuck & Howell’s work. "I was quite pleased with the work they had done in my home," Kent says. "I saw no reason not to use them again for this project."

Having clients as both residential and commercial customers is nothing new for Tuck & Howell. According to Senior Project Manager B.C. "Clay" Livingston, the company started out as a residential and service organization, and then branched out into commercial and some industrial work around 15 years ago. "Despite the growth of this division, we have maintained a strong residential presence," Livingston states. "We have never abandoned one client to get another."

In fact, it’s often from this residential base (25% of its business) that the firm finds much of its commercial business. Livingston adds, "It’s not unusual for us to have done work in a physician’s home and then later be referred for a project at a medical facility. We were honored to be chosen for this project and thrilled to have the opportunity to help Mark Kent bring this building back to life."

Aesthetics vs. Comfort/Control

Designing the mechanical system for the Kent Building presented Tuck & Howell with the challenge of reconciling limited space with the need for comfort and control, as well as maintaining the integrity of the building. Livingston recounts, "The installation in this building presented challenges running the gamut of our industry. Equipment type, location, and installation cost were all important. Furthermore, the final design had to fit small, leasable spaces and the ease of future tenant moves into the overall plan."

Tuck & Howell offered Kent several mechanical system options, ranging from a four-pipe boiler and chiller plant to water source heat pumps to gas-fired rooftop units. According to Livingston, rooftop units were out of the question, since the building features a huge skylight. A chiller would have detracted from the building’s exterior, and a water tower would have produced steam visible during the winter.

With all these considerations in mind, Tuck & Howell designed and installed a two-pipe system with a boiler, coupled with hot water coils on the air handlers for heat and a DX system for cooling. Livingston states that since the historic requirements of the building precluded the use of proper insulation, the boiler was chosen for its ability to provide quickly available heat and high leaving air temperature. "DX cooling was used," he adds, "because of its low installation cost and easy system dedicated zoning."

For controls, Tuck & Howell installed a building management system with panels located on each level of the building and individual zone sensors located within the conditioned spaces.

Careful Attention to Detail

Because of the open structure of the Kent Building, the system’s ductwork had to be visibly installed. Livingston comments, "The owner was very conscious of maintaining the look of the original brick and stained heart pine framing timbers. To do so, we worked with our engineering firm to design around oval paint-grip duct. The oval duct was used to maintain ceiling height, and the flat black painted duct blends very well into the surroundings."

"To further camouflage the ductwork," Livingston says, "the VAV dampers are turned so as to have low visibility. Control wiring for the systems is run along the top of the duct and cannot be seen from the floor, with the control panels mounted in each equipment room."

Furthermore, the Design/Build team’s attention to aesthetic detail wasn’t limited to the building itself, but extends to the indoor mechanical rooms. James "Jamie" Porterfield, staff engineer/junior project manager for Tuck & Howell, comments that these "aren’t your typical boiler rooms." Instead the rooms, which open directly into occupied space, are extravagant and boast stained wooden doors and ceramic floors. "They are a showplace for our work," Livingston adds.

A Separate Space

In addition to the principal system, Tuck & Howell also had to address the heating needs of the new elevator/rest-room tower, which presented its own challenge. According to Livingston, "This area has a very open look and limited framed walls. So once again, we needed a system that fit into the space available and didn’t disrupt the look of the area."

To condition this space, Tuck & Howell chose split heat pumps, which met the common conditioning requirements and limited equipment space within the tower.

The duct for the tower consists of a riser from basement-mounted air handlers to the upper levels with sidewall penetrations for the elevator lobbies. The restrooms are conditioned by the same riser with duct in soffits over the lavatories.

Creative Solutions

Another challenge facing Tuck & Howell was where and how to unobtrusively install the exterior equipment. As a solution, the project’s architect, the Pazdan-Smith Group, designed an outdoor equipment yard featuring the same brick and period design as the original building, which includes crossbuck wooden gates matching the building’s motif.

Inside the yard, Tuck & Howell installed outdoor boilers and the condensing units. The refrigerant piping was tunneled from the courtyard where the equipment was located to the inside of the building. Livingston comments that this was no easy task, as "extreme coordination among all trades was required due to the very limited space for building entry."

In addition, the team learned the importance of including extra piping when running a tunnel. Porterfield says, "We ran an extra set (of piping) for future use, and discovered that we did, indeed, need the extra piping. Once you begin running the pipe through, you can’t go back and start again."

Kent comments on how pleased he is with the equipment yard: "Since the building is located next to a residential zone, I was concerned about the potential noise generated from the equipment and complaints from my residential neighbors. This hasn’t been the case at all. In addition, with the equipment being low-profile and well-hidden, you can’t even see the units unless you’re above them."

He’s also pleased with Tuck & Howell’s creative solution of introducing outside air into the building. Since Kent didn’t want any exterior sidewall penetrations for air handling units, the team removed an old fire escape on the rear of the building and installed faux balconies at each of the unused doors. The doors were rendered inoperable and matching colored grilles were installed. The outside air was then ducted from these grilles to air handling units. As a result, this solution not only provides tenants with fresh air, but the balconies lend a New Orleans touch to the building.

A Job Well-Done & On-Time

The successful completion of this project not only required hard work and creativity, but a seamless coordination of the Design/Build team’s efforts from start to finish.

"The abatement process for the building was very time-consuming and resulted in a tight schedule for the installation," Livingston states. "However, we were able to meet the schedule by being very creative with personnel assignments."

This included maintaining an after-hours presence in the service sector. Tuck & Howell’s weekend and after-hours service personnel were required to report to work at the job and take service calls from the jobsite. Upon completion of the call, the technician would return to the job. "The refrigerant piping was completed by this method. In addition, we teamed with a local piping firm to handle the boiler-to-water coil piping," Livingston says.

"Our on-call service personnel completed the control wiring with a minimum of overtime. We also handled our own control wiring in house, which allowed us to mesh with the ongoing construction process," he adds.

Livingston credits Tuck with how smoothly this process went. "Jerry put a tremendous amount of time into the project and visited the jobsite almost daily for many weeks. The job could have never gone as well without his assistance directing the field personnel," he states.

Also, Kent was presenting space to potential tenants during the installation, which meant the engineering firm had to be in a continuous state of redesign for tenant spaces. "Our engineering firm, LeBlanc & Welch, Inc., proved to be well up to the challenge and kept changes flowing without delay," Livingston says. He also attributes the project’s success to the architectural team of Joe Pazdan and Lisa Lanni. "Not only were Joe and Lisa very cooperative in allocating equipment spaces and chases, but they were right there when the day-to-day challenges were taking place."

Commissioning & Beyond

Tuck & Howell’s own well-trained and experienced staff are handling the start-up and balancing. In fact, the balancing will be ongoing since the building is still in the process of being occupied. According to Kent, the system is functioning beautifully, and hasn’t required a single service call. He has contracted with Tuck & Howell to handle all aspects of the system, and is interested in the company designing a system for a 10-story historic building he’s currently renovating.

As for Tuck & Howell, the firm looks forward to again bringing another piece of the past into the future.