•  Carrier

Preserving the Past, Conserving the Future

At the Urbana Readiness Center, renovation of an historic facility beat the budget and aspires to earn LEED Gold.
By Laurie L. Goscha, AIA, LEED BD+C

West façade of the Urbana Readiness Center at the completion of the renovation.
Photos courtesy Bailey Edward

When retired Army Lt. Col. Terry Anderson, then Chief of Planning for the Illinois Department of Military Affairs, looked to modernize the 1938 Readiness Center in Urbana, Ill., his first thought was to build a new facility. However, when funds were appropriated several years earlier than anticipated, plans had to change. As Col. Anderson notes, “We weren’t planning to build in FY09, so when the opportunity presented itself, we realized that renovation would be the right answer for this facility.”

Midwest-based, women-owned architecture firm Bailey Edward, which had a track record of many National Guard projects, was selected with their team of consulting engineers to take on the mission. “The Guard asked us to take an historic 83,000-ft² cast-in-place concrete armory,” said Ellen Bailey Dickson, Managing Principal at Bailey Edward, “and develop it from Schematic Design to Bidding in eight months. It was a challenge we just couldn’t pass up”.


If a shortened design phase wasn’t challenging enough, the design team soon discovered that the building had been determined “eligible” for the National Register of Historic Places by the State Historic Preservation Officer at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. This designation had the potential to lay roadblocks in the way of meeting key project requirements such as increasing the net assignable area of the building, meeting or exceeding a LEED Silver rating, and meeting minimum Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection (AT/FP) requirements. Now, however, as the project construction is complete, success appears to be on the horizon with approval from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, a potential LEED Gold rating in sight, and solid AT/FP measures in place. The project was exceptional well-timed for the Guard as well. As the Army National Guard (ARNG) Readiness Center Transformation Master Planning Project is fully underway, the renovation of the Urbana Readiness Center is positioned to provide a template for how existing, historic Readiness Centers can be modernized to meet today’s functional and environmental needs while preserving the character that makes these buildings unique.

The project’s success is the outcome of a solid partnership between the entire project team: architects, engineers, owner, using agency and contractors. Trust and respect went a long way in establishing that bond and generating an atmosphere where everyone had a personal stake in the success of the project. Renovation projects have unforeseen conditions; when such variable arose at the Urbana Armory, the project team was able to openly communicate and work through the challenges to find the best solutions in terms of cost and schedule.

Starting the project with a solid vision and goals for sustainability set the stage for success. This helped ensure the goals were carried through from concept to building occupancy. Bailey Edward utilized their strategy of bringing a proposed LEED checklist to the very first kickoff meeting and assigned its LEED accredited professionals on the project who knew what it would take to achieve the sustainability credits. The firm was able to establish specific sustainability goals for the project upfront and understanding ARNG’s programmatic needs and budget. This clarified what systems and technologies were the best fit for the building before design really began.

With these guiding principles of partnership and early goal setting, the team could employ innovative sustainable design strategies and build them into the project from the outset.

While preservation has value for our communities and culture, the Guard wanted to be sure that investing in a building from the 1930s made sense for its 21st century needs. With updated AT/FP requirements, a tight budget and federal sustainability mandates, there was a real concern if it even would be possible to address all of these needs through a renovation project. The answer was a resounding yes. All AT/FP requirements met. The cost for the project was nearly half of what it would have cost to construct a new, similarly sized facility. And LEED Gold certification is anticipated, with expected annual energy cost savings of 17.9 percent.

Earlier restoration projects had replaced the original Readiness Center windows with wood and vinyl casement windows. Not only were these windows leaking water into the building, they were inefficient and did not meet the blast resistance required for AT/FP. For the new renovation, the architect utilized historic photographs found during research as the basis for the mullion pattern at the replacement windows and worked with their consulting structural engineer, ABS Consulting, to identify the level of blast protection needed at each window.


The entire building had been constructed with a cast-in-place concrete façade, which was cracked and spalled allowing further water infiltration into the building. The architect surveyed the facades and documented each crack and spall. This provided drawings and specifications dictating the proper procedures for removal of loose concrete; anti-corrosive treatment for exposed rebar; the methods for patching cracks and spalls; as well as the procedure for coating the entire building with an elastomeric coating. At the area of the building determined to receive the highest blast impact, structural engineers scheduled the inside face of the cast-in-place concrete wall to receive a coating of fiber reinforced polymer composite along with steel brackets which extend from the floor to the roof at the window piers.

To meet today’s changing needs of ARNG and updated military security measures, various doors were required to be replaced or modernized with updated hardware. The work included replacing overhead doors that had been designed to match the original wood doors that had formerly led to stables for the cavalry’s horses.

Existing roofing and insulation was removed and replaced with thicker polyisocyanurate, more than doubling the R-value of the roof.

The team had to focus on efficiency and creative solutions to keep the project on track with the budget, which was just under $14 million. That was the construction funds available to renovate the 83,000-ft² building, construct an addition, and make sizable improvements to the site. A new construction project of similar size and quality likely would range between $270-per/ft² to $300-per/ft². That equates to a potential budget of $22 million to $25 million. By reusing more than 95 percent of the existing building shell, structure and interior walls, the Bailey Edward team was able to save nearly 50 percent of the construction cost of a new structure. That saved money can be used for other mission needs.


In addition to the initial cost savings realized by reusing the existing building, the energy improvements made to the building will continue to translate into savings at the bottom line for years to come. While it is understood that the LEED rating system may not specifically be utilized in the future, there are a number of sustainable innovations and strategies utilized at the Urbana Readiness Center that are applicable under any criteria used to measure the impact on the environment. These provide a sustainable roadmap for the renovation of other facilities.

Sustainable Sites. Reusing the existing location kept the project from becoming a new construction facility on a greenfield site, which in Illinois, typically ends up being located on prime farmland. With a location near the heart of the city, the Urbana Readiness Center was able to capitalize on a nearby public bus stop and existing bicycle infrastructure, reinforcing the mass transit and cycling culture that was already established in the Champaign-Urbana community.

After evaluation by the project’s civil engineers and landscape architects, Harley-Ellis Devereaux, the site was determined to be conducive to restoration and a bioswale was created for natural filtration of the stormwater coming off of the enlarged military parking lot. As discussed, the project called for the addition of over 12,000sf. By strategically infilling the larger than authorized Assembly Hall and building on top of an existing single story portion of the building, the original building foot print was maintained while gaining the required functional space, resulting in no building increase to the impermeable site area.

Water Efficiency. In a Readiness Center, showers and toilets are a must. Add to that the size of the units anticipated to utilize the facility and the fixture counts became high. To offset the impact of the water needs for the facility, the plumbing engineers selected low-flow urinals, low-flow lavatory faucets, low-flow shower heads, and dual flush toilets to minimize water usage. After working out the initial commissioning bugs, these devices have had no complaints from the users and are functioning as intended. Additionally, the project’s landscaping utilized native and drought tolerant plantings, removing the need for permanent irrigation.

Energy & Atmosphere. With 12-in cast-in-place concrete walls with no insulation as the exterior envelope, improving the thermal performance of the exterior walls was a high priority for the Bailey Edward team. To determine the right solution for the walls, samples were taken and analyzed in a laboratory to determine the composition and condition of the concrete and to characterize the water vapor transmission properties of the existing coating(s) on the exterior surface. Through this analysis and Bailey Edward’s research, it was determined that the exterior walls would be furred out on the interior with 3 5/8-in metal studs, filled with spray foam insulation and covered with gypsum board for a finished interior, tripling the R-value of these walls.

Similarly, existing roofing and insulation was removed and replaced with thicker polyisocyanurate insulation and roofing, more than doubling the R-value of the roof. Electrical and mechanical systems were reviewed and energy efficient systems were designed by KJWW Engineering Consultants. Specifically, outdated lighting was replaced with high-efficiency fixtures, exterior lighting utilized high performance LED fixtures, and a water source variable refrigerant flow system was installed for heating and cooling.

Urbana Armory, c. 1940

Materials & Resources. In addition to reusing the existing structure, the design team carefully specified new materials, beating LEED credit requirements for recycled content and regionally manufactured materials. The general contractor, Felmley Dickerson Co., exceeded the project’s construction waste management requirements, providing documentation showing that an impressive 81 percent of the construction waste was diverted from landfills through recycling.

Construction Project Manager, Jim Meek, included the following in his LEED submission: “At a minimum, the goal of the project's construction waste management plan was to divert at least 75 percent of debris from disposal in landfills and incinerators. The approach to satisfy this requirement was to require sorting of all debris materials on site to individually labeled dumpsters by recyclable material type. This sorting of debris was to ensure that the maximum quantity of debris material was in fact appropriately diverted. When a dumpster was filled to capacity, the recycler or hauler would remove the debris from site to be processed and then report the actual weight of debris on a monthly basis. At monthly project meetings, we provided an up-to-date Construction Waste Management Log to track the type and total quantity of debris removed from the project. Types of material debris that were able to be recycled included wood, concrete, metal, and cardboard.”

Indoor Air Quality. The quality of the air breathed both during and after construction affects overall health and productivity of workers and occupants. To manage this issue, air quality was monitored during the construction process, and building materials were protected from moisture damage and subsequent mold growth. Bailey Edward specified low volatile organic compound materials for adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings and carpet systems making sure that when specifying these products, they met the performance requirements necessary for a military facility. Additionally, to ensure the right amount of fresh air was available in each room, a carbon dioxide monitoring system was installed to measure CO₂ and increase the volume of outside air circulating in each room to match the occupant load in real time.


The renovation and addition to the 1938 Urbana Readiness Center came in at a cost significantly under what it would have been to build a new facility. The extensive work, by a legion of dedicated professionals, demonstrates that a historic building can be renovated to preserve its unique character and sustain the environment while also meeting the diverse needs of today’s military.

The Urbana Amory has a long, rich history. That heritage can now continue, rather than be replaced. Moreover, the innovative solutions implemented in this facility can be translated into facilities nationwide and provide a meaningful roadmap for the transformation of existing Readiness Centers into sustainable assets for the future.

Laurie Goscha, AIA, LEED BD+C, M.SAME, is Associate Principal, Bailey Edward; 715-203-1844, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..