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Right On The Money

Right On The Money

An owner's comprehensive statement of goals keeps a complicated Federal Reserve Bank headquarters project right on target.

By By Gordon Wright, Executive Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200402 issue of BD+C.

The Building Team for the new Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta credits a two-page document with being one of the most helpful tools used to successfully deliver such a complicated structure.

"This was probably the first time that a client provided us, at the kickoff meeting, with a mission statement as detailed and clear as this one," says Joseph Trammell, principal in charge with the project's local architect, Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates (SRSSA). "This was the best mission statement I've ever seen. It worked because it was specific enough to identify goals."

The bank serves the Sixth Federal Reserve District, which covers Alabama, Florida, and Georgia and portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Operating around the clock six days a week, it processes an average of 4.5 million pieces of currency ($1 to $100 bills) and 3.5 million checks a day, and ranks first among the 12 Federal Reserve Banks for check-processing volume.

Before the phased move-in into its new headquarters that began in May 2001, the bank's operations were spread over three locations. Several developers had assembled the 12-acre property at the corner of Tenth and Peachtree Streets over a period of 25 years. When an Australian developer went bankrupt, the property was acquired by the Bank of Nova Scotia. The site had been on the Atlanta Federal Reserve's short list for a long time, and it purchased essentially an entire block, except for a hotel at one corner. It subsequently sold four acres to a private developer, who is constructing an office building on that property.

Wanted: A classic touch

In its mission statement, the bank was firm about two related demands: endowing its new headquarters with a classic exterior, and hiring a nationally or internationally known architect to be on the design team. When the selection process began, word circulated that SRSSA was the local architect to team with, and at least 10 prominent firms contacted the firm. Robert A.M. Stern, dean of Yale University's School of Architecture and head of his self-named New York firm, was selected to design the exterior and the interior public spaces, in large part due to Stern's experience with classical design. "We thought, based on everything we knew about what the bank was looking for, that Stern would be a good choice," says Trammell.

Although marble was the preferred exterior cladding material, planners initially thought they couldn't afford it, so precast concrete was substituted. By the time working drawings were half completed, however, the price of precast had gone up enough that cladding the building in stone was deemed financially feasible. The use of white Cherokee Georgia marble — 264,000 sf, in 38,800 hand-set pieces — was "a major value-added feature obtained at no additional cost," says Willie Russell, project executive with BTMI, the project's joint venture general contractor. (BTMI consisted of Beers Construction Co. [now Skanska], New Jersey-based Torcon, and two minority firms, C.D. Moody Construction and The Integral Group, both of Atlanta.)

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta has major frontage on the most famous of the city’s streets named “Peachtree.” Five columns in front of the building, including one that supports an eagle sculpture, are vestiges retained from previous bank locations.

The bank also wanted to incorporate several features from its past into the new headquarters, not merely for decoration, says Trammell, but as integral components of the design. Its original boardroom, built in 1918 and relocated when the bank was moved in 1965, was reconstructed on the third floor of the new headquarters. Windows were added for the first time.

Five exterior columns and a 2,500-pound eagle sculpture, commissioned for the opening of the bank's 1965 headquarters, were also relocated. The irreplaceable nine-foot-tall eagle, with its 16-foot wingspan, was gingerly transported two miles to the new building in what Russell describes as a "scary" operation.

Russell, formerly with Torcon and now with Skanska, came to the project with prior experience as project manager for Federal Reserve projects in Cleveland and East Rutherford, N.J.

The most challenging part of the construction was excavating next to a tunnel that encloses an Atlanta rail system station, to make room for an underground vault. "We were driving piles and digging deep foundations — to a depth of about 50 feet — in the area of the tunnel," says Russell. "One wrong move and we'd have had a major catastrophe. Coordination was very tight."

The cash vault, reportedly the second largest in the U.S., is situated almost entirely below grade. Motion sensors were put in place to detect any penetration of the outer wall. The project required more than 20 engineering and specialty consultants, including a materials-handling specialist and another for currency shredding and document disposal.

John Kerr, the bank's former senior VP and its project manager, says that to keep the project moving along, the Building Team had to be cognizant of the approval process that governed the bank, which reports to the Federal Reserve Bank Board of Governors in Washington. "You need to conduct business in such a way that decisions line up when you need them," he says. "You need to gauge project activities to make sure that the decision makers are able to make decisions when the time comes."

Bank officials wanted the building's front door to face Peachtree Street. The adjacent Midtown rail station, which is toward the back of the site, also dictated that a significant side entrance be provided. Security considerations ruled out the placement of a 500-vehicle parking facility beneath the building.

The building has separate loading docks for general deliveries and for check couriers. A secure dock for incoming and outgoing cash shipments is large enough to accommodate a semi-trailer truck.

Trammell says the building "is much more challenging structurally than it appears" because of its lack of repetitive elements. A structural highlight is a story-high, 110-ft-long composite concrete- and-steel truss that spans a truck dock, according to Steve Hamvas, project manager for the building's structural engineer, Stanley D. Lindsey & Associates, Atlanta.

Atlanta-based Newcomb & Boyd was the project's mechanical engineer. "It wasn't a project for which you designed a system and copied it 20 times, says project manager Bob Howell. The air-handling unit specifications had 15 different operational sequences. The mechanical design was guided by a desire to create a minimum number of penetrations.

Accommodating many needs

The 746,000-sf bank headquarters houses an unusual combination of functions. The bottom floor, at 130,000 sf, is devoted entirely to processing cash; the same-size floor above, to processing checks. The third floor, which contains a cafeteria and meeting rooms, mediates between these "factory functions" and the seven 41,000-sf office floors. The bank is also home to a data center, a 5,000-sf Monetary Museum just off the lobby, and its own firing range, where security officers can maintain their marksmanship skills. Meeting space is an important component of the building, with a typical business day finding numerous business meetings in progress involving either Federal Reserve participants or outside organizations.

The unusual nature of the project enabled Trammell, who normally concentrates on management issues, to do more hands-on work. "I went to virtually every meeting, reviewed many drawings, and worked out some of the details," he says.

"The bank's in-house staff did as good a job as any owner we've ever worked with," says Trammell.

Kerr says he appreciated the level of employee input that was put into the building's design, with one in five of the bank's 1,200 employees participating. "We wanted to involve as many bank people as possible to create ownership and acceptance of the final project," he says.

Paneling from the boardroom of the bank’s original 1918 building was reinstalled — for a second time — in the new building.

The bank was scheduled to have its public opening on Sept. 13, 2001. The ceremony was canceled in the wake of the terrorist attacks two days earlier.

Trammell says he has shown the Federal Reserve's mission statements to other owners as an example of the kind of information his firm would like to obtain at the outset of a project. "To the extent that we can get other clients to do this, it will be a big help," he says

"This project illustrates how successful partnering works," says BTMI's Russell. "There was never any finger-pointing. The project was the prime goal for each of the stakeholders."

Construction Costs

Sitework $5,593,414
Finishes 13,658,025
Specialties 1,963,572
Specialty construction 4,982,949
Concrete 31,223,696
Masonry, stone 16,229,953
Metals 4,288,993
Electrical 21,748,194
Doors, windows, glass 10,497,778
Equipment 1,544,424
Mechanical 15,969,719
Moisture protection 2,071,066
Conveying systems 2,932,269
Wood 2,183,442
General conditions 17,167,472
TOTAL $152,054,966

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