Getting It Right
TAT worked closely with mechanical engineers to develop strategies for effective system interactions. By designing corridor spaces with long areas of exposed brick and intentionally lower ambient temperatures, reduced energy consumption offset the loss of heat through uninsulated walls. And, of course, historic accuracy was a priority. The roof structure underside was exposed, which necessitated insulation on top, so the perimeter details specified reduced the visible thickness of the insulation without changing the existing proportions of the cornice trim profiles. Likewise, a previously installed cooling tower visible on the roof of one structure had to be moved behind a chimney, along with other HVAC equipment, to restore the original, historic profile of the building.Thermal strategies incorporated insulation behind drywall finishes in bedrooms (to retain heat overnight) while maintaining the desirable exposed brick in living spaces. High-performing fenestration was installed everywhere. For sound attenuation, concrete, gypsum concrete and leveling material were all considered. TAT elected 3/4- or 1-inch gypsum concrete (depending on the location) on top of an acoustic underlayment, providing a high Sound Transmission Class between floors.
Wherever possible, the team salvaged original stairways. The main wooden stair tower connecting the three commercial floors was retained, and original “Boott Cotton Mills” cast-iron treads were found, restored and reinstalled. Steel fire-escape towers outboard of the façade could not be brought up to code but were deemed historically significant to the look of the building. They were refurbished to retain historic reference, but public access is prohibited.
For the commercial spaces, a minimum amount of build-out was completed as the tenants were yet to be determined. But the façades were required to be fully restored, regardless. Existing wood window frames were repaired in place. Window openings in the commercial portion that had been blocked were reopened and received historic-replica wood frames.
Because the residential windows required features, such as interior screens and child-protection mechanisms, retrofitting the existing, deteriorated wood windows was not an option. The apartments received historic-replica aluminum window frames approved by NPS and LHB. Nevertheless, residential tenants enjoy significant historical detail. Three of the units in particular incorporate an original internal stairwell as a dramatic feature in the living rooms. The “winder” stair was cleaned, repaired, railings modified, and made into a presentable and usable element while the floors were infilled to separate the stack of apartments.
Phase Two began with an 18-month design and development process and was completed after 15 months of construction in December 2013. Boott Mills’ rebirth has had a dramatic impact on the city, beyond the atmosphere and symbolism of seeing lights in the windows once more. The Merrimack, long the focus of the town and currently undergoing cleanup efforts, is drawing attention once again among those seeking recreation and reflection. Lowell’s Riverwalk, which was rarely trod in the past, is now bookended by a new minor-league ballpark to the north and Boott Mills to the south, making it a newly popular pedestrian path.
Meanwhile the new apartments, which opened in December 2013, are above 50 percent occupied as of this writing, which is high considering the tough holiday season. All stakeholders have been effusive about the results, including the condominium owners who were in place throughout Phase Two. Future plans for the campus include fit-outs of 15,000 square feet of commercial space through the spring of 2014 and another 20,000 to 25,000 square feet left to be fit-out at a later date.
As for Lowell, the city is building a 100-space parking lot across the street in anticipation of tenancy in the commercial portion. And Lowell is already enjoying the revenue from the taxes associated with the newly desirable property, giving it the funds needed to make other city improvements.
Lowell has become a rich, vibrant gateway city, thanks in large part to successful adaptive reuse and historic preservation of an underused facility. Not all defunct mill properties can be so effectively transformed, but most of them are worth exploring the option. And the strategic use of historic preservation and rehabilitation tax credits can make the idea tempting for savvy developers.
There is power in adapting old mills, and Lowell stands as proof.
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