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From Castoff to National Model

Adaptive reuse transforms abandoned Michigan grocery store.

Wayne State

When Chad Menard looked over the long-abandoned grocery store in Warren, Mich., he saw more than a forlorn, non-descript 42 year-old building.

He envisioned what this single-story, 40,000 square foot ugly duckling has become: the dazzling LEED Gold-certified home of Wayne State University’s widely-acclaimed Advanced Technology Education Center (ATEC).

Menard is a LEED AP and manager of design at NORR Architects, a respected Detroit-based design firm. He also served as the design lead on the ATEC project.

Today the $12 million ATEC stands as a nationally-acclaimed model for community college-university partnerships. Up to 900 students of Macomb Community College can literally walk next door to the ATEC to complete their four-year degree in majors focused on the staffing needs of local manufacturing, transportation, and defense firms. The building delivered in August 2014.

New or Reuse?

“Wayne State had a 40,000 square foot space requirement,” says Menard. “The question was, should we fit a new 40,000 square foot building on the site? Or reuse the present 40,000 square-foot building? We chose reuse.”

Menard said elements of the roof needed rework, with about 75-80 percent of the building exterior deemed reusable. To add a dramatic entrance, about a quarter of the building height was increased to add a grand lobby with a mezzanine. All told, the University saved approximately 25 percent on the projected cost of building new. What’s more, a project targeting LEED Silver certification instead earned LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Extreme Makeover

The grand entrance helped achieve the “wow factor” important to student recruitment and retention. To further establish the building’s new character and mission, something had to be done to dramatically update the drab 1970’s masonry exterior.

“It’s an advanced technology education center,” Menard explains. “So we wanted to skin the building with an economical product that modernized the appearance. A metal skin was highly favored from the beginning for its attractiveness, durability, and affordability. Metal paneling offered the look we wanted.”

Wayne State

The Norr team specified 45,000 square feet of CENTRIA Formawall® Dimension Series® 2-inch insulated metal panels (IMPs) in a smooth dark bronze, limestone, and ryegrass finish. The project also utilized the Formawall insulated metal vertical (IMV) joint option, a four-sided metal joint for providing advanced aesthetic flexibility and added thermal insulation on the vertical joint.

“Formawall is a very cost-effective solution. The CENTRIA team was very easy to work with throughout all construction phases,” Menard reports.

More than Classrooms

The transformed building is a smash hit, especially with students that have little or no knowledge of the building’s former life.

“One of the design challenges was to make this a destination for students—a place to learn but also a comfortable place to study, socialize, and just hang-out before and after class,” Menard says. “In effect, the building was expected to offer a campus experience in and out of class.”

Menard and his team accomplished that with a grand lobby, plant life, dramatic mezzanine lounge, outdoor classrooms, abundant casual seating, wi-fi everywhere, and similar effects.

According to Menard, ATEC officials report nothing but positive input from the student body. “They told us students don’t leave. They like it here. When you hear feedback like that, it’s very gratifying.”

And rewarding, too. For a combination of good design, sustainable building practices, adaptive reuse, and fulfilling the educational mission, the ATEC project team was named the 2015 Best Project Team in the $3 – 25 million category by the local contractors’ association awards program.

“It’s a very successful project. At the ribbon-cutting, state and university officials couldn’t believe this was once an old grocery store. They couldn’t believe the transformation was so complete,” Menard says.

An unloved castoff magnificently lives again in a sleek new skin of glass and insulated metal panels.

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