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In the News

The Evolution of Creation

Banker & Tradesman
November 14, 2005

Trinity Church in the city of Boston, a National Historic Landmark and an exemplary piece of architecture, recently wrapped up the first phases of its multi-year restoration, renovation and expansion program. Goody Clancy and Shawmut Design and Construction, along with Leggat McCall Properties and the Trinity Church leaders, were all involved in the complex project, which was recently recognized by the Associated General Contractors with its Chairman’s Award – also known as the “Best in Show” Award.

Several years ago, when church leaders commenced planning of the structure’s overhaul, they had four specific goals in mind.

  • Restore Trinity Church to its original beauty, focusing on work in the interior and exterior of the central tower, highlighted by the monumental murals of John La Farge;
  • Expand the church for the benefit of future generations, through a delicate expansion of the basement by 10,000 square feet, thereby creating 22,000 square feet of now usable space;
  • Update the structure with 21st century necessities and innovations, including six geothermal wells to provide heating and cooling for the church new and renovated spaces; and
  • Keep the church open during construction.

It took dedicated collaboration among church leaders, architects, construction managers and perhaps “divine” supervision, to allow for a seamless restoration and expansion of this more than a century-old masterpiece.

Issues and Challenges of Renovation In order to undertake such an intricate restoration and expansion located on one of the city’s highly dense and bustling urban sites, the unusual step of beginning project pre-construction two years prior to groundbreaking was taken.

As one of Boston’s most visited tourist attractions and the home to a congregation of 4,000 parishioners, the church needed to keep building functional during the restoration and renovation process. This required vast amounts of flexibility in scheduling, logistics and construction methods. As the team worked on Trinity’s restoration and expansion, Copley Square saw two Super Bowl parades, three Boston Marathons, one World Series parade and the massive influx of people and security measures for the 2004 Democratic National Convention. On a day-to-day basis, the area is flooded with thousands of people commuting to work or spending their lunch hours relaxing in the square.

In the earliest planning stages, church officials outlined their commitment to keeping parishioners, tourists and local commuters safe and engage officials’ goal to create additional space for meetings and activities. Though the church itself could hold 1,500 worshippers, the largest gathering area could hold only 175 people at maximum capacity. The key questions remained for the church: how could the architects create new, additional space without altering the historic integrity of this Richardsonian icon – and do it without closing the church?

Collaborative Project Management The answer would come from the chosen team of experts. Church leaders chose architects and preservationists Goody Clancy and the construction management team of Shawmut Design and Construction, both of whom had achieved proven results in similar endeavors and who could complete the project with the care it deserved. In addition, the church hired Leggat McCall Properties to partner in overseeing this complex project.

Goody Clancy and Shawmut went well beyond initial plans to ensure a safe and accessible project site. For example, church activities were relocated to mobile classrooms adjacent to the building so the congregation could continue their studies and meetings uninterrupted. Additionally, Shawmut and Goody Clancy took steps to eliminate fumes from excavation equipment and provide safe access ramps for parishioners, making the overall construction process less intrusive to the daily life of the church.

Working in this constricted urban space was made possible through intricate schedule planning. Shawmut coordinated deliveries, disposals and drilling to ease the impact on the neighborhood, and planned interior work to allow the church to remain open. Renovating and working carefully within a delicate old building, full of priceless works of art required the utmost sensitivity while still maintaining a pace that would keep the project on time and under budget.

While working on the exterior of the central tower, Shawmut and Goody Clancy recommended forgoing the use traditional scaffolding in favor of mobile access towers. These mobile access towers provided a way for workers to reach the upper levels of the tower without putting weight on the delicate roof and walls, which could have damaged tiling and interior artwork. They also lessened the visual impact of the scaffolding. The special scaffolding allowed workers easier access to complete their detailed and exacting jobs.

An additional challenge of the renovation presented itself when church leaders wanted to find matching stones for the small Dutchman repairs needed on the tower. Unfortunately, the East Longmeadow sandstone and Dedham granite that H. H. Richardson used was nearly impossible to find 125 years later. The team used stone scraps found under the church’s west porch to complete the repairs and went to great lengths to match the color and texture of the mortar. The stunning result is a restored example of the original structural aesthetics.

As for the interior work, the only signs of construction were thin scaffolding between pews and the planks of wood, serving as floors for the workers. Through thoughtful preplanning, the project team completed the restoration and expansion with no injuries of consequence to any pedestrians or workers.

Once safety and planning for the occupied renovation was addressed, the project team focused their efforts on historic preservation. In order to preserve the original La Farge murals in the central tower, those involved sought the expert hands of Cheshire, Conn.-based Canning Painting & Conservation Studios and Malden-based Gianfranco Pocobene Studio, to undertake the nearly year-long process of cleaning and restoring the historic beauty of the central tower. The preservation of such an important American treasure was treated with the same expertise and meticulous attitude as all other aspects of renewing Trinity Church.

Drilling Down to Heat Things Up To provide heating and cooling for the church’s new and renovated spaces — without destroying the historic integrity of the building — required the innovative design of an underground heating system. Shawmut drilled six, self-contained wells around Trinity Church, through layers of soil and bedrock, down 1,500 feet — more than twice the height of the nearby John Hancock Tower. Water at that level keeps a constant temperature of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to provide warmth during the winter and cooling during the summer. Pumps inside the wells circulate the water up pipes and through 13 heat pumps, located in an underground mechanical room, and then back into the ground. The system is one of the most environmentally friendly known — it uses no fossil fuels and produces no emissions. Most importantly to the local community, the wells do not negatively affect the water table.

Drilling 1,500-foot-deep wells in the middle of the city was no easy task. Geothermal energy is rarely harnessed in such an urban area due to the lack of space. But even working just eight feet from the church, construction engineers were able to complete the project. Though the drilling itself was at a depth deep enough to make little noise, the machines that operate the drills emitted sounds equivalent to those of a bus accelerating, a sound that is all too familiar at Copley Square. As a consistent theme for mitigating the impact on the local environment, Shawmut erected noise-reducing wooden structures and worked overtime to complete the drilling as quickly as possible. The majority of the noisy drilling occurred in January and February during harsher weather conditions, making a less intrusive impact on the community and pedestrians.

In addition to being an environmentally sustainable system, geothermal power delivers other benefits to the church. It runs silently, without the clanging associated with traditional mechanical systems, and is invisible, thus preserving the aesthetics of the structure.

Inventing New Space Within Historic Walls While the renovations were well underway, Goody Clancy’s executed a plan to expand the church from below, enlarging the basement by 10,000 square feet, thereby creating 22,000 square feet of now usable space. The renovation of this new area, called the undercroft, required lowering the basement by four feet, which proved extremely difficult due to the challenge of operating excavating equipment in a small, enclosed space.

Crafting this space from beneath a monumental structure – and above wooden pilings was not only a rare task, but one that required careful planning. The machinery needed to perform major excavation in a constricted space could interrupt the flow of Copley Square. Parts of the basement needed to be meticulously dug out by hand in order to avoid damaging the wood pilings, many of which were repaired and capped while they were exposed. Finally, engineers installed a pump system to keep the pilings below the water line wet in case of future fluctuations in the water table. Disposing of the great quantity of dirt that was removed from inside the site was another logistical challenge.

Church leaders also took advantage of the opportunity to create some original artwork for the new space. The project team, in collaboration with artists Alexander Beleschenko and Raffaella Sirtoli Schnell, installed original art glass for the undercroft. The glass, in a contemporary interpretation of “stained glass,” contrasts with the exposed granite and warm cherry millwork, the final bold and colorful detail in turning a formerly unused portion of the basement into an open and inviting gathering area. The new undercroft opened on Jan. 9, 2005.

Trinity’s importance stretches from the historical to the architectural to the religious: it is one of only 2,500 National Historic Landmarks in the country, it has influenced architectural works that span the globe and it is a revered house of worship for thousands of people both in the local community and from afar. Renovating such a building required the utmost care, respect and understanding, which is why the combined team of experts whose experience restoring many of New England’s most important landmarks, including others designed by H. H. Richardson, was integral to making this project a success.

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