Preservation and technology combine in federal building makeover


A canopy of photovoltaic panels atop the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Grand Junction turn sunlight into electricity. The system is one of several features of a

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Inside the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building and Courthouse, everything old is new again.

The original wooden floors have been uncovered and refinished. The interior doors with their frosted glass windows and mail slots have been rehung. An intricate staircase once again spirals upward from the lobby of the nearly century old building in downtown Grand Junction.

At the same time, though,  a canopy of photovoltaic panels on the roof generate electricity — more, in fact, than is used in the building. A geothermal system with wells drilled nearly 500 feet into the ground warm the building in winter and will cool it this summer. Sensors that dim lights and turn off office equipment when its not in use save power.

Through a combination of historic preservation and technological advances, a $15 million renovation project that’s nearly complete could achieve a unique goal in turning a building on the National Register of Historic Places into the first such structure to achieve net zero energy usage and earn platinum certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

“I think GSA is confident we’ll be able to work toward that and get it,” said Jason Sielcken, a project manager with the US. Government Services Administration.

The GSA, an agency that manages thousands of federal properties across the country, took on the project to not only refurbish the Aspinall Building and make it more energy efficient, but also demonstrate that preservation techniques and renewable energy technologies could be used in other buildings.

While the Aspinall Building and the setting and climate in which it’s located all are unique, Sielcken expects that some of the work will be duplicated elsewhere.

“I think there are a lot of lessons learned.”

A rededication ceremony and open house are scheduled for Feb. 20 to celebrate completion of the project and show off the changes.

Work on the project at the Aspinall Building has been under way for nearly a year — starting with demolition on the second and third floors to remove interior walls followed by construction of new walls and other interior spaces, the renovation of historical features and the installation of new electrical and heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Sielcken said the project will be completed on time and on budget. The work has been funded by federal stimulus dollars.

The building was constructed as a courthouse and post office in 1918, while a large addition was constructed in 1939.

Sielcken said many of the historical characteristics of the building were restored because the original fixtures had been saved in storage.

Many of the original interior doors were refinished and rehung. Wooden panels in the doors that had been removed to accommodate louvers were replaced. The original wooden floors were uncovered and refinished and the high ceilings restored. Even the original color scheme was replicated with new paint.

Even as historic characteristics were retained, state-of-the-art technology also was used to generate and save electricity.

A 123-kilowatt solar system installed on the roof generates more electricity than the building uses. More efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs and controls that respond to natural lighting conditions also were installed. Other sensors detect whether or not work stations are occupied and turn off office equipment when it’s not in use. Storm panels with solar control film were installed inside the original windows to reduce demand for heating and cooling.

A geothermal system takes advantage of the constant temperature of the ground to heat the building in winter and cool it in summer. The system includes 32 wells drilled nearly 500 feet into the ground just outside and north of the building. Sielcken said the geothermal system alone makes the Aspinall Building 64 percent more efficient.

The ultimate goal, though, remains net zero energy usage — meaning the building generates as much, or even, more power than it consumes.

Platinum certification under the LEED program constitutes the highest level awarded for techniques that reduce energy use by 50 percent over standard construction.

“I think those goals are attainable,” Sielcken said.