From Eyesore To Asset

“Now or never” is how Becky Steinhoff describes the journey of taking an old, messy building with multiple challenges and turning it into a revitalized, beautiful community asset–the Goodman Community Center in Madison, Wis.

“All of us like to go to places that make us feel good,” says Steinhoff, executive director of the new community center. “Our new building needed to be beautiful, not just functional.”

With the assistance of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy Program and Eppstein Uhen Architects, the center held its grand opening on September 27, 2008, and breathed new life into the Madison community. The center is one of the busiest in the city, and features programming and activities addressing a variety of needs from preschoolers to adults. The new building doubles the number of households that can be served to nearly 11,000. It brings to life a vision of a center connected to its diverse community, and is a shining beacon and source of pride for many.

Don’t Judge A Building By Its Skin

Although the center is an inspiring example of a neighborhood and city coming together, it didn’t always look that inviting. The building–now listed on the National Register of Historic Places–dates to 1903, when it served as a factory for agricultural-equipment production and structural-steel fabrication. Since the early 1980s, the building has been underutilized and ultimately unoccupied. Finally, after much urging from the community to clean up the old site, the center teamed with Eppstein Uhen Architects to take on the transformation and design process.

In the end, architects converted the historic building into a versatile, all-inclusive facility. This included a 35,000-square-foot renovation and a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium addition. The community center includes a public lobby, multiple public-meeting rooms, a fitness center, youth and senior spaces, a large food pantry, a commercial kitchen and a café with outdoor seating along a public bike bath.

The café–scheduled to open before the end of 2008–will be run by teens training in culinary arts. “Our kids, when they’re ready, will be running a restaurant and catering business that will be able to cater to events in the building as well as anywhere in the community,” Steinhoff says. “It’s going to be high-end catering. It’s not going to be burgers and fries.” The teens debuted their emerging talents at the grand opening’s donors’ brunch, and are excited about the opportunities the program will give them.

Sustainable Programs, Sustainable Design

Developing an environment that will engage people from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds proved to be both a challenging and rewarding process. Incorporating sustainable design concepts was especially important to the community from the beginning. Architects worked to make the building as “green” as possible by re-using most of the ironwork’s elements, including the steel gantry outside and surplus structural-steel beams inside. Other features include a rain garden for on-site storm-water retention, native-plant selection, energy-efficient windows, recycled furnishings and innovative plumbing fixtures.

Energy conservation was also a focus. The long, narrow building had over 130 windows that needed to be replaced to comply with the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Standards, and it was important to maintain the building’s sense of openness. To accomplish this, energy-recovery units were installed on the mechanical side–94-percent-efficient boilers and high-efficiency chillers for the building’s air-conditioning system. A solar hot-water heating system on the renovated gantry serves the kitchen and showers, while a photovoltaic solar electric system generates electricity to help with operational costs.

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