Intelligent Growth in Wilmette

8804-143_5512By Matt Baker

Picture, if you will, a public works facility somewhere in suburban Chicago. You are likely envisioning walls made of concrete masonry units, a bowstring truss roof and maybe some pebbled, chicken wire glass letting in meager light. For most industrial facilities of a certain age, this is de rigueur.

It was true in the village of Wilmette, too. Before a series of expansions, cramped and outdated work spaces reduced the Wilmette Public Works Department’s effectiveness. And when the village decided to upgrade, they took sustainability into mind.

magazine“The department set out to not only improve productivity, but also to reduce energy and water consumption,” said Marc Rohde, Director of Municipal Architecture at Legat Architects, the architect of record on the latest expansion. The renovations enhanced site efficiency while simultaneously reducing operational costs and creating a healthier workplace.

The project began back in the mid-‘90’s, when Epstein | Metter Studio was brought in to handle Wilmette’s master plan for village infrastructure, including reconciling the hodgepodge of miscellaneous public works buildings into a unified and better-functioning facility.

Natural daylight and cross-ventilation were the keys to the design of the 2009 office expansion.

Natural daylight and cross-ventilation were the keys to the design of the 2009 office expansion..

“Back then, the whole notion was that the project would be phased over many years,” said Andrew Metter, who oversaw the 1996 addition and worked as project designer on the later, 2009 expansion. “Completing that first phase enabled the existing buildings to be tied together into one complex. But the village was farsighted enough to know that these type of things take several years.”

This phased strategy allowed the department to preserve existing buildings until they could be remodeled or replaced at a pace consistent with village resources. “The master plan, from the very beginning, had this idea of sustainability in mind,” said Metter, “by reusing existing infrastructure and existing resources, and letting them implement a phased strategy that didn’t dictate wholesale demolition.”

According to Wilmette Public Works Director Donna Jakubowski, the 1996 project was long overdue. “We didn’t even have separate women’s and men’s rooms,” she said. The new employee facilities building, housing administrative and engineering offices, included locker rooms, a lunch room and meeting facilities.

The wash bay speeds up all of the  vehicle maintenance chores for the village and recycles wash water.

The wash bay speeds up all of the
vehicle maintenance chores for the village and recycles wash water.

More importantly, it unified and renovated the existing, circa 1950’s vehicle maintenance buildings. The site sits along Laramie Avenue in a quiet, residential neighborhood. This first renovation provided a clean, public-facing façade for the facility as well as serving as an indoor connection between existing buildings.

At this year’s Designight ceremony, the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Chicago chapter awarded a Distinguished Building Award for the 2009 expansion and renovation. The award celebrates the worldwide presence of outstanding work from Chicago architecture firms, and recognizes significant achievements in the planning, design and execution of recent building projects. The Wilmette project was one of only four out of a hundred submissions selected for an Honor Award, the highest form of recognition in the Distinguished Building category. Jurors included prominent architects from across the nation.

Like the first expansion, the phase two addition is a linear bar design, built parallel to one of the original vehicle maintenance buildings. A thin outdoor court separates the 25 x 130 addition from the vehicle building, though they are connected by an enclosed vestibule. Both additions are modest in scale, helping them to blend into the neighborhood while embracing their industrial function. White metal panels clad the exterior in an expression of a more modern ideal.

All of the windows feature a low-e glass film. The north side of the 2009 building—where there is minimal solar heat gain—features full height glazing with operable windows. This design allows for superb daylighting and natural ventilation. “The massing of the building was based on this idea of getting maximum cross-ventilation in a highly insulated perimeter, but with the ability to bring natural light to the space,” said Metter. The southern façade, facing the truss building, is predominantly opaque, with high clerestory windows bringing in more light.

The building makes use of a geothermal heat pump system. A hydronic medium passes beneath the glazed earth wall perimeter through, depending on the season, a chiller or high-efficiency boiler. Multiple zones increase the comfort factor, as well as the system efficiency. Each private office has its own thermostat and there is an additional one for every four workers in the open workspace.

Wilmette6The first expansion completed in 1996, before green building had taken hold in the architecture and design industry. “Sustainable nature back then was just good practices, dictated by economics,” said Rohde. Even so, green products were used during construction. The most conspicuous is a 60 foot long counter, made from reclaimed ash trees which were felled in the village at the onset of the Emerald Ash Borer crisis in the suburbs.

“In the depression days, everything was sustainable and reusable. That mentality was coming back by necessity, dictated by public nature and the availability of funds,” said Rohde. “Public works employees especially have that kind of cobble-together, can-do attitude that is rooted in the philosophy of sustainability.”

The 2009 expansion features more green practices, such as recycled carpeting, three-inch thick poly-iso board insulation and locally-sourced, low-VOC materials. A white membrane roof reflects sunlight and combats unnecessary heat gain.

A new wash-out bay was built in 2009 as well, which can fit four vehicles at once. All of the wash water is captured and recycled. Vehicle cleaning tasks that may have taken a couple of hours in the past for public works employees—as well as the fire and police personnel—now take only a few minutes.

Outside, efficient landscaping minimizes water use and parking lot bioswales not only help the site to blend into its neighboring residential community, but they also filter oils and sediments before rainwater flows into sewers. There are also reserved parking spots for carpooling and alternative fuel vehicles.

“It’s a difference of night and day from where we were back in early 90’s,” said Jakubowski. “It is definitely a compliment to the trustees that funded both projects.”

Photos courtesy Mark Ballogg of Ballogg Photography; Jim Steinkamp of Steinkamp Photography

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