Had it not been for the commitment of the owner and the sensitivity of the locally based Building Team, Denver's new Elati Light Rail Maintenance Facility could easily have become just another dark and dreary industrial maintenance facility. Instead, the team—architecture firm RNL Design, project manager and planner Maintenance Design Group, structural and M/E engineer Carter Burgess, and general contractor M.A. Mortenson—created an elegant, highly functional and efficient building that was responsive to the needs of both the employees and the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.
"It has a lot of natural light for the mechanics," says Richard Shiffer, AIA, RNL's principal-in-charge. "This is a people facility, not just a big barn to maintain the vehicles like so many older maintenance facilities were intended to be."
To learn more about the needs of the new building, the design team visited existing Regional Transportation District facilities and talked to employees. Throughout the design process, drawings were hung in the facilities to solicit feedback from end users. From this, the team gained insight into the importance of providing more natural light and more efficient locker facilities.
For the neighborhood, the $40 million investment by the Regional Transportation District replaces a rusted and decaying World War II-era foundry with a new 125,000-sf building that is more reminiscent of a recreation center than an industrial service facility. The east façade, which faces the residential area, incorporates a modern mix of durable brick and stone masonry, metal panels, clerestory windows, and a graceful, arcing roof that turns upward over the main entry.
Ironically, the clerestory windows that flank the sides and center aisle of the maintenance facility would never have happened without budget constraints precluding the use of precast concrete panels. Instead, metal panels were selected for use on the exterior of the maintenance bays. "The metal panel system enabled the clerestory to be sculpted into a dual curve, creating a gesture more appropriate to the length and scale of the arcing roof," says RNL project designer Ron Izzo.
To maximize the amount of light entering through the clerestory windows, the design team opted to span three large HVAC ducts (averaging 5–6 feet in diameter) across the open ceiling space, instead of installing a greater number of smaller ducts. Combining natural light, artificial light, and white interior paint provided a bright work environment that enhances safety and efficiency. A cost-effective concrete hardener with a minimum 60% light-reflective surface was specified to reflect overhead light to the underside of vehicle carriages.
But the key factor influencing the design of any rail maintenance facility is the associated track design. In this case, the Building Team had to coordinate the construction of the Elati facility within the context of the RTD's $1.67 billion Transportation Expansion (T-REX) project. Five miles of new rail tracks were installed on the west side of the facility, with nine of the 17 tracks running through the maintenance building. General contractor M.A. Mortenson coordinated with Elati and T-REX on the installation of the track and the construction of the maintenance facility.
The project also crossed a number of government boundaries, requiring coordination on codes, standards, and guidelines with the city and county of Denver and the city of Englewood. Local government representatives were among the stakeholders that took part in a five-day onsite design charrette conducted by the Building Team at the start of the project. The charrette resulted in agreement on a single concept of the design by the designers, users, and public agencies, says Steve Silkworth, project manager for Maintenance Design Group.