Thursday, July 12, 2012

New A/C, heating, electrical, plumbing modernize Chicago's Historic Union Station

Mortenson Construction has brought the Great Hall at Union Station and its attached 8-story office building into the 21st century while preserving its historic heritage. As part of a $25 million infrastructure improvement project funded by Union Station owner Amtrak and project-managed by Jones Lang LaSalle, Mortenson Construction upgraded or replaced the building's mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems while installing fire safety equipment, including sprinklers and fire alarms to help make the 87-year-old building compliant with city regulations and set the stage to market the upper floors for tenants.

Amtrak is already reaping financial returns from the capital improvement program, which it can use to offset operating costs. It has moved its Chicago office employees back into the building, partially occupying the second and third floors and saving more than $2 million in annual rent. By eliminating inefficient radiator heat, utility costs have dropped by more than $1 million so far in 2012, with an expected yearly savings of more than $2 million.

In addition, air conditioning in the Great Hall is making it a hot spot for cool events in the summer, with a record nine events in May and four weddings in June. The Great Hall, a waiting area for Amtrak and Metra train passengers and favorite location for movies from "The Untouchables" to "Man of Steel," is now a year-round venue for events and expected to bring in another $1 to $2 million annually.

To generate more revenue to put toward operating costs, Amtrak is working with Jones Lang LaSalle, the building's property manager, to market the rest of the available Headhouse office space as well as 60,000 square feet of upgraded retail space surrounding the Great Hall. "What was previously unrentable space because of life-safety issues and inadequate ventilation systems has become prime real estate," says Ray Lang, President of the Amtrak-owned Chicago Union Station Co. and the railroad's chief of state government relations.

Mortenson Construction successfully tackled significant logistical and operational challenges while working on the historic landmark, including doing some of the overhaul in a public space, without interrupting passengers, the train traffic control center, several retail businesses and private and public events. "The challenge is similar to redoing a kitchen while you're still cooking in it, although on a much larger scale," says Frank Tverdek, Jones Lang LaSalle's General Manager of Union Station. "Mortenson brought immense value to the project."

The primary portion of the work occurred in the sub-basement of the facility, which is inaccessible by vehicle and located two floors below the water level of the Chicago River. Mortenson relied on extensive use of 3D laser scanning and modeling, first to determine the best way to disassemble and remove the old mechanical and electrical systems, then to carefully design, fabricate and assemble onsite the new systems. Without this powerful tool, the extraction of existing equipment and installation of five industrial boilers and two 600-ton chillers would have added considerable cost and time.

For Chicago Union Station, Mortenson drew on deep experience in historic renovation and restoration, including other train station projects. In a $243 million restoration that will largely be completed by the end of 2012, Mortenson is reviving St. Paul's Union Depot for tenants that include Amtrak, and it renovated and converted Kansas City's Union Station, built in 1913, into an interactive science museum and Amtrak station. Mortenson has completed more than 30 historic preservation projects over the years, including cultural and performing arts centers, municipal and civic facilities, education buildings, churches, and office buildings.

"Restoring historic buildings is one of the most sustainable ways to build," says Greg Werner, vice-president and head of Mortenson's Chicago office. "The true success of an historic renovation is when visitors can't tell that we were ever in the building – except that it looks and operates better." Chicago Union Station was envisioned by famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and opened in May 1925 after ten years of construction at a cost of $75 million dollars. Burnham died before construction began and the work was completed by the firm Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, Burnham's successor.


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