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Reigniting an Icon: From dirty power plant to healthy building

By Rob South, WKAR


LANSING, MI – State Historic preservation awards are being presented today at the State Capitol. The Accident Fund Insurance Company's rehabilitation of the Ottawa Street Power Station is being recognized.

The $180-million rehabilitation turned the historic coal-fired power plant into prime office space. Much attention was paid to making the building a healthier, happier place to work.

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Not long after the Ottawa Street Power Station started operating in the 1940's, downtown Lansing had a problem. Soot and smoke from the massive coal-burning boilers would drift down and blanket the city like a dark fog.

Architects Edwin Bawd and Orlie Munson hid the Power Station's smokestacks on top of the Art Deco building, but they weren't tall enough to carry the smoke away from the city. That's why the Board of Water and Light installed the much taller, and much plainer, stack that graced the Lansing skyline for so long; to blow the smoke over and away from the city.

When the architects of the Power Station rehab started planning the Accident Fund's new headquarters, they took the employees' environment seriously. Gavin Gardi is the Sustainable Programs Manager with the Christman Company, which oversaw the project. He says when they design sustainable buildings, they like them to be "exciting and healthy to work in."

Gardi says ventilation is one of the most important systems in any building. The Power Station now has high-efficiency fans and blowers that constantly bring fresh air into the work space.

But the air doesn't just go through a big tube and blow out a vent in the ceiling like many of us are used to. It's actually pumped into the floor.

The under-floor system is also cleaner than traditional ventilation. Gardi says that in traditional systems, the common pollution of everyday life--carbon-dioxide, dirt, dead skin cells and the like--get pushed down toward the worker, not unlike the soot and smoke from the old power station that drifted down into the city. Gardi says fixing the problem is similar as well: blow it over the workspace where it can be filtered before being recirculated.

But, clearing the air isn't the only thing that makes the Power Station a good place to work. Gardi says the building's towering windows let natural light in and employees see out. He says about 90% of the building's workers have a view to the outside.

Accident Fund employee Scott Burgess has a respectable view of downtown Lansing in his 9th floor office space. A quick stroll to the other side of the building reveals a well-appointed break area which looks out over the ball park, the Grand River and the new City Market. Burgess says the building is inspirational and a pleasure to work in.

The coal-burning power plant was obsolete and decommissioned nearly 20 years ago In the rehabilitation of the Power Station, designers have found ways to make the building not just a respectable landmark for downtown, but a respectable place to work as well.

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