‘Adaptive use’ of old buildings can be alternative to new construction

Last modified: Thursday, March 05, 2015

With a high price tag attached to new construction, some businesses are choosing to remodel and repurpose older buildings to suit their needs.

“Adaptive use” — the reusing of old buildings for a new purpose — makes sense in New England, with its many factory buildings, mills and schools. The practice can also preserve historic buildings and add to the vitality of a community by breathing life into spaces that otherwise may have been underutilized or abandoned.

And repurposing an old structure rather than demolishing it helps keep building materials out of landfills and conserves natural resources.

Mary C. Yun of the Northampton firm Rice and Yun Architects, recently designed a new space in an old building for Click Workspace. Now at 20 Hampton Ave., Click Workspace will move into 9.5 Market Street when renovations are done to that building which for years housed two antique shops.

“It is an interesting structure. The exterior walls are all concrete but it is a timber-frame building,” Yun said. “It is built in a similar way to a lot of the old mill buildings.”

Some of the upgrades to the existing structure will include a sprinkler system, an elevator, a new roof, and making it accessible for handicapped people.

Yun said she hopes that the renovation will earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Yun said she has not researched the original use for the building on Market Street, but one feature is a possible clue.

“There is this huge radio tower in the back of the property and I think it belongs to this building,” Yun said. “I would guess that it might have been some sort of communication-related business.”

A lot of buildings in Northampton have plenty of small offices, but were not designed with a flexible, open, multifunctional floor plan that Click Workspace wanted for its co-working environment in which self-employed people share space, ideas and amenities such as wifi and conference rooms.

“It is really difficult to find space downtown,” Yun said. “New construction was not possible and they wanted to stay in the central business district because lot of people that use the building are invested in being downtown.”

Yun said that when she heard the three-floor, 9,000-square-foot building at 9.5 Market St. was being vacated, she thought it would be perfect for Click Workspace.

Yun is the president of the Market 9.5 LLC, a company that includes Click Workspace founders Ali Usman and Lisa Papademetriou. Market 9.5 purchased the building for just under $800,000.

“It was just perfect timing,” Yun said.

Rice and Yun Architects also did a redesign of the space in the Old School Commons on South Street for the Center for International Studies Abroad. The space had previously been used by the Northampton Center for the Arts and included a large ballroom.

“We thought, how do you make a room that is meant to be a ballroom into an office space and keep the structural beauty of the room?” Yun said. “So we decided not to touch the architecture and floated a work area in the center of the room.”

1850s mill in Chesterfield

Kent Hicks is the owner of Kent Hicks Construction which is housed in part of an old mill building on the Westfield River at 634 Main Road in Chesterfield. His company specializes in historic restorations, as well as passive house design.

“Our building is actually a good example of reusing an old mill,” Hicks said. “It was originally a grist mill and a later a factory.”

Hicks said the part of the building his business occupies was rebuilt some years back. He is now retrofitting the older part of the 5,000-square-foot mill, because his business is expanding. He now employs seven to 10 people, depending on the season.

Hicks plans to super-insulate the building, give it high-performance windows, and make it airtight and able to completely dry if flooding occurs.

The wooden mill has been through a few floods, most recently during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, but the structure remains in decent shape. Hicks said this is a testament to the sound structure of the building. He added that while many old buildings in New England may look like they are beyond repair, the structures frequently are strong enough to be rebuilt and retrofitted.

“I think old buildings mean a lot to a community,” Hicks said. “People like it when you can preserve that aesthetic. We have a great example here of how long buildings can last.”


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