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Rehab brings "green" to old finance hub

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Rehab brings "green" to old finance hub

By Charlene Prost

Of the Post-Dispatch

06/09/2004

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With worn-out heating and cooling systems, elevators that don't always work and a gray coating covering its once-opulent glass dome, the 112-year-old Security Building isn't the prestigious hub for financial executives that it once was.

But that will change when renovation gets under way at the 11-story building, 319 North Fourth Street.

Executives at the Lawrence Group architecture and design firm have a $14.5 million plan to make the Security a trendsetter. They bought it last year and work in the old Noonday Club area at the top.

They intend to renovate it as downtown's first certified "green," or environmentally friendly, historic building. That's also rare at the U.S. Green Building Council, which certifies new and recycled green buildings.

Out of 107 certified buildings, only two in Portland, Ore., are historic, said Dara Zycherman, who oversees certification for the council. "This is certainly not the norm."

To meet certification standards, Lawrence architects and planners have sketched in a variety of energy and resource savers:

High-efficiency mechanical systems.

Glazing to make windows airtight.

A white coating on the roof to deflect heat.

Paint, carpeting and other materials healthful for tenants and the environment.

What's also coming is a dramatic atrium addition above the domed, 2 1/2-story lobby. It wasn't intended, at least at first, to be an energy saver. But it's ending up that way.

Stephen Smith, the firm's president, said the impetus for the addition was a garage that hotel developer Charles Drury is building south of the Security, partly for a Hilton Hotel at the renovated Merchants-Laclede.

The problem is that the Security rises in a U-shape above the dome, leaving a light well above the dome. The garage wall abuts the light well and blocks it to just above the seventh floor.

Smith said the garage is needed to help with attracting tenants to the renovated Security, which today is slightly more than half filled.

"But having the garage there was also a design challenge," he said, "because it will block views and sunlight, and we'll be looking into a concrete wall."

The solution, which will be built by Alberici Constructors Inc., is another wall next to the garage to enclose a six-level atrium space above the dome, with a roof and skylight at the top. Also coming on the ninth floor at the top of the atrium is an open deck so tenants can take in the views.

In the atrium, guests attending receptions, meetings and other gatherings will see the approximately five feet of the dome poking through the main floor.

David Ohlemeyer, a principal at Lawrence, said the gray coating - possibly used to stop leaks - will be removed to expose the original clear glass. Light from the skylight will filter through the atrium and the top of the dome into the ornate lobby, which also will be renovated.

Ohlemeyer said that aside from supplying natural light - another hallmark of green buildings - the plan preserves at least part of the dome. "It's one of the building's signature features; and now, people can't see it," he said.

But the big energy saver is insulation the addition will provide for a mostly brick building constructed without it.

"The atrium solved the design challenge," Smith said, "and then we realized, 'Hey, this also makes the building more energy efficient.'"

Ohlemeyer said the Lawrence executives decided to go for green certification after being encouraged by folks at Alberici, who have a green project under way. They're renovating a 50-year-old industrial building in Overland as their energy-efficient headquarters.

One reason for doing it at the Security, Ohlemeyer said, is to give Lawrence hands-on experience and knowledge of the latest green-design techniques.

"We've had clients asking about it, so we thought, 'What better way to learn and understand it than at our own building,'" he said.

Ohlemeyer doesn't have numbers on costs compared with savings for all the green features going into the Security. But he expects the savings to outweigh the dollars spent. "Plus," he said, "we were going to do much of the renovation work, anyway, so why not do the socially responsible thing?"

Smith said he expects to close on financing soon. "And then we'll go gangbusters" with construction work. It should be finished by early next year.

Along with private money, the Lawrence executives plan to use about $3 million in tax increment financing from the city, $4.8 million in state and federal historic tax credits and $1 million or so in state tax credits for removing hazardous materials. U.S. Bank is buying the historic tax credits and handling the tax increment financing.

The building, built by a group of wealthy St. Louisans and designed by Peabody, Stearns & Furber of Boston, was the most costly tall office building downtown in the 19th century and one of the most prestigious, according to the Landmarks Association of St. Louis Inc. The Security and nearby buildings were a hub for banks and financial institutions.

Smith said he's seeking a restaurant operator for what had been a bank on the first floor. "It's a beautiful space, with four bank vaults, a huge marble fireplace and wood paneling," he said.

David R. Luckes, president of the St. Louis Community Foundation, said his organization was on the verge of moving out of the Security but decided to stay after seeing the renovation plan. "We did a lot of looking," he said, "but we're glad we came back to where we started."

Reporter Charlene Prost

E-mail: [email protected]

Phone: 314-340-8140

The Security Building

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