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Boston’s McCormack Building Gets Makeover

November 4, 2010 - 10:53am


Constructed from 1931 to 1933, the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Boston created quite a buzz with its Art Deco design.   A departure from the Classical Revival style popular among federal buildings of the time, its aluminum windows, unadorned granite and limestone base and stepped parapets illustrated its modernity.

But over time, the building once hailed for its forward-thinking design grew weary and only an overhaul could restore its architectural significance and its tenants’ enthusiasm.  

“The original vision was to take this tired, old building--but a magnificent historical building-- and restore it to meet the modern, functional needs of the tenants,” says John F. Buckley, a senior project manager for the U.S. General Services Administration, which constructs, manages, and preserves government buildings.

Now, after its makeover and upgrades, the John W. McCormack U.S. Post Office and Courthouse draws attention for both its sustainable design features—the building has earned a LEED gold certification, garnered U.S. Department of Energy recognition for federal energy management —and historical preservation leadership.  

Built to last

Luckily, the building’s good bones laid the groundwork for a successful renovation.

“The building is inherently sustainable,” Buckley says. “The original materials are incredibly durable and it was built with large windows that lend themselves well to sustainable design.”

Indeed, the original oak parquet and terrazzo flooring with marble inlays still lie underfoot. Old bathroom-partition marble finds new life as green rooftop pavers.   And an abundance of natural light reduces the building’s need for electric lighting.  

Still, renovating a historic property to best support today’s public building needs wasn’t easy, Buckley says.  

Manufacturers had to fabricate modern windows that absorb blasts without shattering into the space while keeping the façade historically accurate.   Architects had to envision ways for contemporary mechanical, electrical and plumbing feeds to integrate into old vertical chases.

Going for the gold

After seven years of requirement design, planning and construction, the renovation was completed in 2009. New technologies, from efficient plumbing fixtures to variable frequency drive motors, complement existing strengths to bring the 700,000-square-foot building into the new millennium.

Low-flow showers and dual flush water closets reduce water waste. T6 light bulbs and occupancy sensors ensure that artificial lighting consumes as little energy as possible. Highly efficient windows with sun shades, a solar water pump, efficient chillers and storm water runoff irrigation systems also bolster the building’s sustainability.

Tenants are thrilled with the upgrades, perhaps none more than the Environmental Protection Agency, which occupies half of the building.   Its offices use 100 percent green power from biomass, landfill gas and wind to offset electricity consumption.  

A green roof, complete with drought resistant plants from Cape Cod and the Berkshires, tops off the renovation.   It reduces storm water runoff and boosts insulation.  

Together, the features helped the building earn a Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program in 2010.   LEED provides third party verification that a building has attained major energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, indoor environmental quality improvements, and good stewardship of resources.

Reaping rewards

Although cost savings are difficult to calculate because the building was partially unoccupied prior to the renovation, Buckley says energy use has dropped and worker comfort has soared.

“The changes are incredibly dramatic,” Buckley says.   “Prior to the renovation, it was a tired old building.   Now it’s restored to a vigorous Class A office building.   It’s revitalized this area of town and the 1,000 employees who contribute to the local economy.”

This project won a Federal Energy and Water Management Award for outstanding contributions to the Federal Government by increased energy efficiency, use of renewable energy, water conservation, and greenhouse gas management. This award was sponsored by the Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program which facilitates the Federal Government's implementation of sound cost-effective energy management and investment practices to enhance the nation's energy security and environmental stewardship.