Engineering, modern design & historic preservation meet at Cordley Hall

The Cordley Hall Renewal project was featured on a walking tour during the Washington Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference in March. Participants learned how the project that included a full interior remodel and a uniquely engineered HVAC system is expanding research capabilities and learning opportunities for students.

Cordley Hall currently houses three separate science departments within the Colleges of Science and Agricultural Sciences: botany, plant pathology and integrative biology. It also contains The Herbarium and the Oregon State Arthropod Collection, two of OSU’s prized specimen collections.

Project Manager Dustin Sievers led the WOHESC tour along with representatives from Systems West Engineers, Energy Trust of Oregon and Hennebery Eddy Architects. They began the presentation with an overview of the original building’s design challenges. Cordley Hall was constructed as two separate wings, built between 1956 and 1965. It had deep historic value and had served as a hub of scientific discovery for generations of students. However, it was no longer meeting modern demands for capacity, design or energy-efficiency.

The Cordley Hall Renewal project launched in 2020 with a challenging set of objectives: completely overhaul the interior design, bring the plumbing and electrical systems up to modern standards and build a new, energy-efficient heating and cooling system – all while preserving the building’s mid-century exterior and adhering to OSU’s Requirements for Sustainable Development.

Engineering a sustainable energy future for Cordley

One of the biggest challenges for the project team was solving the HVAC problem. In the 1950s, buildings on campus did not have air conditioning and were largely unoccupied during the summer months. Today, OSU offers classes year-round. But the lack of reliable AC was more than a comfort issue for Cordley Hall. Temperatures in the building could soar as high as 90 degrees during the peak of summer which restricted scientific research.

The solution to the temperature issue was a chilled water loop HVAC system designed to serve four science facilities on campus – Cordley, Burt and Nash Halls and the Agriculture & Life Sciences Building. The centralized design maximized energy-efficiency and cost-effectiveness while keeping interior temperatures in all four buildings steady and predictable. The North District Utility Plant, located nearby on NW Orchard Ave., was simultaneously constructed alongside the Cordley project to supply power and chilled water to the new HVAC system.

Before, Cordley Hall had been a significant drain on OSU’s energy usage. Post-renovation, an analysis done by Systems West and Energy Trust of Oregon showed that the building exceeds energy code requirements by 36% . During the WOHESC tour, Energy Trust Outreach Manager Beth Offensend stated that the improvements will save $165,000 in annual energy costs.

Balancing sustainability with historic preservation

Cordley Hall’s location within OSU’s National Historic District posed another challenge for the project team. Any changes to a building within the National Historic District must be approved by the city and meet the standards outlined in OSU’s Historic Preservation Plan.

The historic preservation requirements became a sticking point when it came to Cordley’s windows. The building’s original windows were poorly insulated and contained lead and asbestos. There was no way to keep the windows and meet today’s building codes. They had to be removed and replaced. However, the style and size of the windows did not match anything available on the market today. To solve the problem, Project Delivery worked with a manufacturer to build custom windows that met modern construction standards and maintained the style of the 1950s originals. This solution preserved the mid-century aesthetic of Cordley’s exterior, while greatly improving the safety and energy-efficiency of the building.

Work on Cordley Hall East continues

Renovation work on the west wing of Cordley wrapped up in mid-2022 and all the departments who had been temporarily housed in the Coast Range Building during the remodel have moved back in. The Project Delivery team is now working on Cordley Hall East and expects the renovation to be completed in 2024.

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