Construction of ‘green’ Public Works facility under way

The new Public Works facility can be seen under construction behind a building at the existing facility in this photo taken from the Sabo bike bridge over Hiawatha Avenue.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Building will be the “most efficient” the city operates

When the old Lowry Avenue bridge was demolished in late June, it’s safe to assume that many thought it was the last they’d see of the historic bridge. As it turns out, part of it will soon have a new home in Minneapolis, though several miles from its previous location on the Mississippi.

Earlier this month, the city of Minneapolis announced that the deck from the old truss bridge had been donated by the county for use in the construction of the new Hiawatha Public Works Facility. The decking, which will be used as public art and to create rustic fencing around the structure, represents just one of the ways that materials are being reused to construct a new, state-of-the-art, “green” Public Works facility.

Dating back to the 1920s, the site at East 26th Street and Hiawatha Avenue South has housed a number of Public Works operations. Prior to construction on the new facility, 18 different Public Works buildings — which ranged vastly in age — were still standing on the 9-acre site. The new facility, like the one before it, will house many of the city’s construction and maintenance forces. Headquarters for the city’s street maintenance and sidewalk inspections departments will be relocated to the new facility, as well.

But the biggest difference? What had previously consisted of more than 100,000 square feet of occupied building space is being condensed to a single new building totaling roughly 59,000 square feet, though the work output in the smaller space is expected to remain the same. One freestanding building on the site, the Public Works central stores building, will remain intact.

One of the main goals with this project, said senior project manager Paul Miller, is to considerably reduce operational and maintenance costs associated with running the old facility. The merger isn’t just physical. The hope is that by centralizing operations, various Public Works sectors will be able to pool resources. “It’s a consolidation and a much more efficient workforce utilization,” Miller said.

Just how inefficient was the old facility?

At one time, the city made asphalt on the site. When the practice ended in 2003, a number of other buildings on the site still relied on their heating as a byproduct of the asphalt plant, and so the gas in the former asphalt plant remained on to help heat other buildings. The practice was not only inefficient, it was also costly, Miller said.

In a statement earlier this month, Ward 9 Council Member Gary Schiff called the facility “a real improvement for the neighborhood.” It’s also being heralded by city leaders for another reason. The new building is designed to meet LEED gold standards, an environmental rating that takes into account a project’s water and energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and conservation of resources. It’s the city’s first project to be built to such a standard.

Among the “green” features incorporated in the design:

— Bricks and concrete from older structures on the site will be recycled and incorporated into the project

— Installation of an energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling system

— Use of local “green” products, such as composite landscape pavers made from recycled plastic bottles and rubber tires

— Onsite stormwater management

Construction of the nearly $10 million facility, which got underway in March, is scheduled to wrap in May 2010, according to the building contract. But Miller said the builder’s timetable is much more aggressive and that the project could be completed as early as January 2010, with the facility opening by April.

You can see the building’s progress and find more information about the project on the city’s Public Works website.

last revised: June 30, 2009