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PCL Calls Courthouse Construction to Order

Sat May 05, 2001 - West Edition
Troy M. Hawks

What’s brown on the outside and green on the inside? The new United States federal courthouse being built in Denver. Sure it may make for a poor riddle, but construction officials say that thanks to a roof that will convert light into energy, the Denver courthouse will consume half of the energy of a typical courthouse.

According to Project Manager Curtis Berg of the General Services Administration (GSA), plans for the ten story, 320,000 sq. ft. (29,729 sq m) courthouse include a series of photovoltaic arrays designed to sit on top of the tower section of the courthouse.

Photovoltaics (PV) is a technology that utilizes semiconductors similar to computer microchips to convert light energy directly into an electric current. This energy can either be used immediately or stored in a battery for later use.

PV panels or array modules are very versatile and can be mounted in a variety of sizes and applications such as on the roofs or awnings, on roadside emergency phones or in large arrays consisting of multiple panels. PVs are now even being integrated directly into building materials such as shingles.

“The photovoltaic array at the top of the tower section of this facility will provide approximately three percent of the facility’s electrical use, and this energy will back-feed directly into the facility electrical switch gear, reducing the overall amount of public service electrical usage,” said Berg.

This is a pilot sustainable design project of GSA, meaning that the building was designed to have a 100-year life expectancy.

Other sustainable design features include high performance glazing systems, light shelves, extensive daylighting to the building interior, access floor systems, direct/indirect lighting and underfloor displacement ventilation systems.

“The combined effect of all of the sustainable design features of this facility has reduced the overall design electrical demand for this type of facility by approximately 50 percent. This means that the equipment installed within this facility will use only one- half of the electrical demand as a typical facility,” said Berg.

GSA awarded the $75 million construction contract to PCL Construction Services of Denver in the spring of 2000 and the project was initiated just a few months later in June.

According to GSA, the new courthouse annex and its site are intended to meet the Judiciary’s present, as well as future, space needs. The annex is the most recent federal architectural addition to Denver since the 1960s.

The steel girder frame facility consists of 190,000 occupiable sq. ft. (17,652 sq m) including four magistrate courtrooms, 10 district courtrooms, one special proceedings courtroom, 15 judges chambers, jury assembly space, Clerk of Court administrative space and U.S. Marshals Service space.

Fourteen courtrooms, court support areas and office spaces are located throughout the 10-story tower in addition to the Special Proceedings Courtroom featured in the attached pavilion adjacent to the tower. The pavilion is positioned on a southeast-oriented landscaped plaza and recalls a historic courthouse-in-the-square.

Both the exterior and interior finishes will feature durable natural materials including stone, brick, wood and metal, and traditional cork flooring in the courtrooms. The exterior walls are limestone from street level through level three and buff colored brick from the fourth floor through the eleventh floor, the penthouse level.

“At the moment we are approximately 25-percent construction complete, and so far we haven’t had a lot of opportunity for specialized equipment use. We have one tower crane that provides the majority of the lifting capability for the project and we also have another small cab crane,” said Berg.

He added that the use of concrete slip forms for the construction of the three elevator cores within this facility has been particularly useful.

“By using slip forms, a complete elevator core level can be placed in approximately five work days. This has enabled the contractor to stay ahead of the steel frame erectors,” Berg said.

The project is currently on schedule and the anticipated tenant move in date is November 2002. GSA’s design team has worked collaboratively with the city and County of Denver Planning Office as well as other public groups to make this building compatible with Denver’s development objective and sensitive to the architectural heritage of Denver.

Robert A. Peck, GSA commissioner, stated in a press release, “Public buildings are part of a nation’s legacy. They are symbolic of what government is about, not just places where public business is conducted.

“Structures as diverse in time and location as Rome’s Forum and our own capitol are monuments to the vision, leadership and commitment of the nations that build them. As builder for the Federal Civilian Government, the GSA wants to shape this country’s legacy and the way people regard their government as expressed by its public buildings.”

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