The New England Wins Project of the Year

The New England Building was built in 1886-87 by the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company of Boston, Massachusetts. Located at the northeast corner of 9th and Wyandotte Streets in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the historic landmark “is an unusual example of late nineteenth century Renaissance Revival commercial architecture.” Among its distinguishing features are its south and west exterior walls, which were constructed of rosecolored, rock-faced, Springfield sandstone from Massachusetts; round-arched entrances on the west and south; and a two-story oriel window at the southwest corner of the building. Except for some of the interior finishes, the seven-story, 54,680 square foot building had stood substantially unchanged as an office building until the current renovation. Contemporary office design had made the building functionally obsolete, leading to the decision to convert it to 32 upscale apartment units along with a host of amenity spaces including the historically-preserved foyer and lobby, the grand staircase, and a fitness room (which is located within the building’s original main bank vault). Rau Construction Company, the general contractor, maintained the integrity of the building while meeting rigid guidelines for historic renovation. The project scope included delicately cleaning and restoring many of the ornate architectural ornaments such as fine plaster moldings, ceilings, pilasters, capitals, marble flooring, and oak trim. Finding skilled craftspersons who could replicate the techniques of construction from over a century ago was critical. Plaster artists were hired to restore the ornate interior common areas. This restoration was required in order to retain federal and state historic tax credits, which were part of the financing for the project. Most of the building’s original wood windows, including the large arched windows, were restored and modified to accept insulated double-pane glass lites. Fifteen vaults were reused as closets and full rooms, and 42 coal burning fireplaces were restored (although in a nonfunctioning capacity). Responsibly renovating this historic gem required many safety measures and precautions. The City required that the sidewalk remain open for pedestrians. Rau assembled an overhead walkway to ensure their safety. Rau also used extensive barriers to limit jobsite access to authorized personnel. A member of the Build Safe Partnership Program (a formal cooperative partnership with OSHA and The Builders’ Association), Rau completed the project with no major incidents, accidents or injuries, even though there were at times over fifty workers onsite. The project team was presented with the challenge of replacing the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and adding fire sprinklers, modernizing the elevator, and incorporating additional fireproofing and insulation. Rau accomplished this in seamless fashion, working with a team of contractors preselected for their experience as successful design-build partners with Rau on a number of other historic renovations. Everyone on the team stepped up with solutions to various challenges in a true collaborative effort. As a result, the project was completed on budget and two months ahead of schedule. It was approved for occupancy on September 1, 2017 – an important date since the historic tax credit program allows for the tax credits to be claimed in the year in which the historic renovation is placed in service. The New England Building has been awarded state and federal tax credits (Part III completion) certifying that the work complied with Missouri and the U.S. Department of the Interior historic standards. The project exceeded Minority Business Enterprise and Women’s Business Enterprise contracting and workforce goals. It is 100 percent occupied. It has also been nominated for several local and regional awards for design and construction. John Bennett, Owner, New England Lofts, LLC, said, “The building was constructed using 19th century building technology, and Rau’s ingenuity and competence in dealing with the challenges presented by such an old building were invaluable.” He concluded, “When working with Rau you can expect excellence every step of the way.” Paul Stark, AIA, NCARB, Principal, Stark Wilson Duncan Architects, Inc., the Architect of Record, stated, “Dan Meyer, Pete Jenks and Andy Meyer, along with so many others with Rau Construction Company, contributed in countless ways to the overall success of the New England Lofts project. Unforeseen difficulties included the delamination of existing plaster ceilings throughout the building; an archaic, hidden structural floor system rarely used that required extensive coordination between the MEP subcontractors, structural engineer and architect for systems routing; and a very secure main bank vault ceiling (consisting of multiple layers of concrete, clay tile, banded steel mesh and 6″ of poured cast iron) through which they – with tireless effort – created the necessary openings. They responded to these various hurdles in an extraordinary fashion, providing solutions and insight in a timely manner. Not only was Rau incredibly responsive, but their goal was always focused on improving the project in a cost-effective manner.”
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