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Functional upgrades for three classic buildings

Systems renovations highlight renovation of federal buildings in Washington, D.C.

February 01, 2002 |

The renovation of government buildings in Washington, D.C., is ongoing. The most significant current projects include the National Archives, the 168-year-old Treasury Building and the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery.

The 1.4 million-sq.-ft. National Archives and Records Administration building, constructed in 1932, will gain a new museum shop and more exhibit and office space. Pending the donation of an additional $7 million, a theater will be added below the monumental steps in a space now used for parking. Members of the building team include Washington, D.C.-based Hartman-Cox Architects and Rockville, Md.-based Grunley Construction, in association with San Francisco-based URS Corp.

The renovation will improve the building's interior air quality by replacing the mechanical and electrical systems. It will also bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) by creating new access ramps on either side of the monumental stairs.

"Our greatest challenge has been in carving out part of the roof to install the cooling towers," says Ike Ramos, senior mechanical engineer for URS. "After installing four cooling towers, we have to conceal them, so they aren't visible."

An unusual aspect of the project is the new encasement of the original "Charters of Freedom" documents, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The documents were placed in metal and glass encasements and enveloped in helium gas in 1952, in an effort to preserve them. By the late 1980s, it was determined that the helium had caused deterioration of the glass.

After four months of research in 1998, a team of experts recommended that each document be encased separately, this time in aluminum and glass cases,. The documents will be set almost 2 inches off the base with pressure from argon gas. The new cases, designed by Atlanta-based Heery International, are designed to retain the pressure for 100 years. The Archives Building is expected to reopen on July 4, 2003.

The U.S. Treasury Building, the oldest office building still serving the original cabinet office for which it was built, will be modernized as well.

This 502,000-sq.-ft. facility will undergo renovation of its HVAC and electrical systems, fire, life-safety and plumbing systems and also be modified to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Washington D.C.-based Shalom Baranes Associates is the architect, Dallas-based Turner Construction is the joint venture contractor and URS Corp. is the engineer.

"We will modernize the building on the inside, but make it look like it did when it was first built," says Walter Janus, senior mechanical engineer with URS. Exterior work includes window replacement and repointing of the stone façade under a separate contract.

New chases were covered in 3- to 4-ft.-thick interior brick walls in order to install the mechanical systems.

Completion is set for summer 2004. Interior construction has been scheduled in one-quarter increments so that other areas can continue to be used.

The Smithsonian's 330,000-sq.-ft. National Portrait Gallery will receive an M/E/P systems renovation, as existing mechanical systems do not provide flexible temperature control. The redesign will include a new auditorium, which will be made under the current 250-by-150-ft. wide courtyard. Hartman-Cox Architects, Rockville, Md.-based James G. Davis Construction Corp. and URS are involved in the planning and execution of the renovation. Reopening is anticipated in 2005.

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