Office tour showcases adaptive reuse, historic preservation at CTA Great Falls

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Architect/project manager Tony Houtz leads a tour.

Last week, residents of Great Falls, MT, were treated to a tour of some of the city’s best historic buildings that have undergone dramatic renovations, including CTA’s office space. Historic preservation and adaptive reuse are part of CTA’s expertise, and our office in the heart of downtown Great Falls is proof of CTA’s hands-on experience in adaptive reuse, historic preservation, and community investment.

Architect/project manager Tony Houtz admits he had trouble “seeing many redeeming historical facets” when architect/principal-in-charge Martin Byrnes showed him the dark, long, and narrow warehouse building that CTA Architects Engineers bought to renovate as its Great Falls headquarters.

CTA’s building was once used as an Orange Crush soda pop distribution facility from 1935 to 1942, and still has a faded Orange Crush ghost sign on its exterior. It is still informally called the “Orange Crush Building,” with bottles, logos, and design elements present in the modernized building — a nod to the past with an eye toward the future.

The CTA team’s goal was to convert the bones of a worn but solid warehouse into a smoothly functioning office with an industrial look, using many existing heavy industrial pieces — wood, concrete, brick, and large steel garage and freight doors — in a way that made them seem light and graceful.

The design work was challenging, especially in making the building ADA complaint. The front floor was 44 inches above the sidewalk, so the team dropped the entry to sidewalk level and tucked an elevator in the east side of the building. Challenges presented themselves throughout the renovation, including when the stone foundation in front practically disintegrated, and the building front shifted two inches. The front of the building was almost lost, but was saved by replacing the foundation.

CTA employees completed the architectural and engineering work, and with prime contractor Guy Tobacco, got a lot of bang for the buck. CTA paid about $3 million to buy and renovate the building, about the price they would have paid to build a smaller new building.

Once of the best features of CTA’s Great Falls office is the advanced heating and cooling system. The utility bills are the same for the former (leased) CTA building that was 1/3 the size. Since its completion, the building’s operation costs are $0.52 less per square foot than a typical building of equal size in a similar setting, equating to a 42% annual cost savings.

Adaptive-reuse elements abound in the Great Falls office, including a conference room that can be contracted in size if privacy is needed. The office’s main conference room has a pop-out structure on the side of the building that resembles the box cars of the Rail District. A large garage door (from the original building) inside can be closed for smaller meetings. One of the best features of the office is a spiral staircase where the original elevator had been, built as a single piece by Byrnes. The staircase connects the main floor architects and second floor engineers, who often work together.

The building has a LEED Gold rating, and is considered among the country’s top 8% most efficient commercial buildings.

Read more about our building in a recent article from the Great Falls Tribune, including Q&A with Houtz and Byrnes.

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