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In the past, as often as not, the tendency has been to tear down old buildings and replace them with new ones. The whole redevelopment and re-use genre has, of course, taken on new meaning in land-challenged New Jersey, and with it has come new interest in taking older buildings in need of significant repair and restoring and reusing them. That includes everything from commercial buildings to residential properties to schools.

One proponent of that movement is Michael Sackler, an architect with Ives, Schier & Lesser Architecture Studio in Fair Lawn. While structures with historic significance continue to be among the most popular candidates for preservation, IS&L is seeing a stepped-up number of restoration efforts prompted by environmental consciousness.

“People have always been interested in preserving existing buildings, especially when the property has some type of significance in the community,” Sackler says. “More recently, the conservational benefits of reusing older structures have become a major focus. In short, reuse is one of the best things you can do to preserve resources, and building modernization also frequently allows the incorporation of energy-efficient elements. In addition, depending on the level of the rehabilitation, repairs can be far less costly than rebuilding.”

One example, Sackler says, is PS 34 in Jersey City, designed by locally renowned architect John Rowland and built in 1911. The aging school building was in need of window replacement to correct a growing water infiltration issue, and IS&L was retained as designer for the project. The firm brought a preservation specialist to consult on the building’s historic terra cotta and brickwork.

“It was understood that we would preserve as much of the original façade as possible and that we would replace any pieces beyond salvation with closely color-matched materials,” Sackler recalls. “By using a similar mortar color and joint size in repairing the brick facing, we were able to create a seamless transition between what remained and what is new.”

According to Sackler, razing and rebuilding PS 34 was considered but rejected for a number of reasons, including its architectural significance. Beyond that, however, rebuilding would have cost more than double the repair budget.

“The quality of new construction cannot match that of older structures,” Sackler says. “In the particular case of PS 34, it would have been cost-prohibitive to recreate the brick and terra cotta detailing.”

Because the work on the school was deemed a “necessary repair,” the project was not subject to the scrutiny of the local or state historic preservation societies. Many projects, however, do require approval by these types of organizations. For example, in Hoboken, IS&Lis currently involved in an adaptive-reuse and addition for the local YMCA, which was constructed in the 1920s.

“While this is not a historic preservation project per se, the neighborhood does have historic overtones,” Sackler explains. “As such, the Hoboken Historic District had input on the final design of the addition’s exterior. We had to maintain certain aspects of the original façade, and we were required to set the new portion of the building back from the street corner with the most prominent view of the property.”

The assignment included a total rehab of the YMCA’s health and recreation areas and a total gut rehab and addition to the building’s residency component. According to Sackler, the latter portion of the project provides a great example of how “green” design elements can be brought in during the modernization of an older property.

“A portion of this project is being funded by the State of New Jersey under the ‘Green Futures’ program,” he explains. “To qualify, we had to meet certain Energy Star requirements on the new windows, insulation and mechanical equipment.”

Beyond that, and in a general context, the goals of historic preservation, energy conservation and cost efficiency can find themselves in conflict, says Sackler. So it’s important to consider each project individually.

“Sometimes, the historic significance of a structure, both to its owner and its community, can outweigh the more practical considerations of cost and efficiency,” he explains.

One example: IS&L has been retained to replace, in kind, the 100-year-old red slate roof of Westminster Hall at Bloomfield College, for which the firm serves as campus architect. This rare type of slate is available only at one quarry in Upstate New York, and college officials have decided to pay a premium for the material.

“Replacing the roof with red asphalt would be far less expensive, and a lighter color material would adhere better to ‘green’ standards,” he says. “But there’s little chance that such a departure from the original material would be allowed, as it would degrade the integrity of this beautiful old building.”

The college is in the process of applying for preservation grants from the state to help pay for this project. “Part of the state’s criteria for awarding this type of funding is that the building plays a vital role within the life of its community,” Sackler says. “In this case, Westminster Hall is an architecturally distinct element of this iconic campus. It’s also open as a venue for local arts programs and public presentations. Preserving it in its original state is the logical choice.”

According to Sackler, the practice of restoration encompasses such a broad spectrum of work that what he terms the “correct approach” is consideration of each project’s unique circumstances.

“Re-using an old building is inherently efficient,” he concludes. “At the outset, the most important thing to do is to establish what is there in the first place. It then becomes possible to envision a revitalization that, ideally, works to balance history, modernization and cost.”

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