Old downtown Fort Wayne buildings get new lease on life as part of USF

November 29th, 2015

News Coverage:

11/29/2015 10:17:00 AM

Old downtown Fort Wayne buildings get new lease on life as part of USF
Linda Lipp, Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Architects and engineers designing the update and renovation of the former Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce building utilized both new technology and old-fashioned leg work to develop their plans.

The building, constructed in 1926, is being repurposed as a part of the new downtown campus of the University of Saint Francis. Although no full set of design documents are on hand from the original architect, Guy Mahurin, the architects have some original floor plans and some drawings from later renovations, said Tim Ternan, a principal and architect with Design Collaborative.

Work on the rehab began during the summer. The former Scottish Rite building, designed by the same architect at about the same time, is being renovated simultaneously for use by USF. Much of that work will take place in the newer annex to the center that was built in 1962.

The former Scottish Rite building, renamed the USF Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center, will house offices and classrooms for the School of Creative Arts Music Technology program. The former chamber building will be home to the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership.

To get a better assessment of the chamber building’s structure, Design Collaborative called in local survey firm, Bertsch-Frank & Associates, which used three-dimensional imaging to collect data that the architectural firm then used to create its model.

Architects also discovered some older, unknown photos of the building’s interior that provided some unexpected details, Ternan said.

Still, when contractors began opening up walls, there were some surprises: old ductwork that had been used as pipe chases, and other pipe chases that didn’t go all the way through the building but stopped in one spot and started again a few feet over, Ternan said.

Despite their age, both the chamber and Scottish Rite buildings, constructed with durable, cast-in-place concrete, were in “remarkably good shape,” Ternan said.

The project began with asbestos remediation, which had to be completed before the other work got started, said Keith Crone, project manager with Michigan City-based Tonn and Blank, the general contractor.

Tonn and Blank is essentially the in-house contractor for the Franciscan Alliance, which, like USF, is run by the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration.

All of the chamber building’s mechanical and electrical systems, and virtually 100 percent of its plumbing, are being replaced and upgraded to meet today’s standards, Crone said. Some walls and raised floors that were installed during previous renovations are being removed, and other spaces are being reconfigured to create new offices and classrooms. Historic features, such as the elaborate ceiling on the second-floor, are being protected and restored as needed. The second floor will house a coffee bar and lounge when complete.

When the chamber renovation is done, “it will basically be a new building in a 1926 shell,” Crone said.

In the former Scottish Rite building, the ground floor ballroom will be reduced in size by about 10 to 15 percent to allow for the creation of two recording studios. The studios will have free-standing walls within the existing walls, and will support their own ceilings, in order to reduce noise and vibration, Ternan said.

Both buildings also are getting upgrades to their elevators and other improvements to make them more handicapped accessible.

The cost of purchasing and renovating the two buildings is $12.3 million, mostly from private donations. A match of $3 million will come from the city’s Legacy Fund.

Some 20 contractors are involved in the renovation of the two buildings, Crone said, creating about 200 construction jobs over the course of the year-long project.