The Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building is a seven-story, 617,600-square-foot structure in Fort Snelling, Minnesota, near the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport. Designed by Cerny Associates in the austere modernist style popular in the 1960s and completed in 1969, until last summer it housed some 1,100 federal employees from 39 agencies, including GSA’s Minnesota/Wisconsin Property Management Service Center, the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and elements of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
Today, in the largest American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project in Minnesota, GSA is using an estimated $158 million in stimulus funding to replace the building’s old, inefficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system with a new state-of-the-art system that uses some 800 geothermal ground wells—and that will be about 72 percent more efficient than a traditional HVAC system. The building’s mechanical, electrical, lighting, plumbing and fire safety systems—some of which date to the original construction—also are getting a major overhaul. Ryan Companies US began work on the modernization project last summer; when it is completed in June 2014, the building is expected to use about 30 percent less energy.
The project has had a two-pronged impact on the local area, creating construction work while also filling significant vacancies in the office market—where vacancy rates had topped 18%. About 860 employees moved from the Whipple Building to 244,561 square feet of leased space in the Norman Pointe II office building in Bloomington last summer; some of the space they filled had been vacant since the structure was built as a speculative project in 2006. The three-year lease may be extended up to two years. GSA had also begun searching for an additional 233,000 square foot, 10-year lease but that procurement was eventually canceled.
One interesting element of the project arose only after construction began. As work progressed, it became apparent that 70 mature ash trees would need to be cut down to allow for the geothermal drilling. The project team decided to incorporate some of those trees into the building by reusing them as wood veneer for new interior paneling and doors. Because of a beetle infestation that has resulted in a strict countywide wood quarantine, the harvested logs had to be “boiled” (heated in a huge dumpster to a temperature of 140 degrees for an hour to eliminate any possibility of moving live beetles) on site before they could be transported to a veneer mill in Iowa. Those logs are now being transformed into more than 900 Forest Stewardship Council–certified doors and paneling for the building, which—in addition to the project’s many energy-saving features—will contribute to its goal of achieving a LEED Silver rating.
Want to learn more about GSA’s stimulus spending projects? Click our “Stimulus” link in the column to the right or visit GSA’s interactive map showing all of the projects on which it is spending its $5.5 billion in ARRA funds.