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A $70 million renovation has breathed new life - and light - into a Portland State University building

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE -  The nearly 20-month-long, $70-million renovation of Fariborz Maseeh Hall on Portland State University's downtown campus was completed in time for the first day of classes on Sept. 30. After nearly two years, the former Neuberger Hall on Portland State University's downtown campus has a new look — and a new name.

It took Fortis Construction 20 months to turn the building at 1855 S.W. Broadway Ave. into a light-filled structure that seamlessly blends nearly six decades of history with modern-day technology and design approaches.

Now named Fariborz Mas-eeh Hall, the newly reno-vated building serves as home to PSU's student services as well as the university's art and design, world languages and literature, and mathematics and statistics departments. The building also features ground-floor and basement space that will serve as the home of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at PSU, a new addition to the urban campus that is slated to open in November.

The wrap-up of the $70 million renovation project brings Portland State University one step closer to the goal of updating an inventory of older buildings plagued by outdated designs and deferred maintenance

issues.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Adding entrances on the east and west sides of the building for Neuberger Hall building created a ground-floor line of sight from the Park Blocks to Southwest Broadway.

In the case of Neuberger Hall, the orginal building had problems inside and out.The structure is actually two buildings: one made of concrete that was built in 1961, and a second that was connected to it in 1969.

A windowless side of the structure along Broadway blocked out daylight. Additions to the building over the years added to the dim and gloomy interior and resulted in a maze of hallways and passages. Exterior metal panels on the east side of the building had deteriorated, resulting in water and air leakage issues.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A basement-level student lounge benefits from the creation of a light well through the center of the former Neuberger Hall building, now called Fariborz Maseeh Hall.

The overall bones of the structure were still good, however. So, the university decided to address the building's problems with a full renovation. With an eye toward finding a way to improve daylighting and turn the structure into a building worthy of pursuing a gold LEED certification, PSU brought together Hacker as project architect and Fortis Construction.

Lighten up

Windows were added to the stretch of concrete along Broadway, according to PSU project manager Cameron Patterson.

A new glass-heavy entrance also was added to that side of the building along with a new first-floor entrance on the Park Blocks, doubling the structure's original number of entrances. At the same time, student services were relocated from the middle of the ground-floor to the sides, moving them closer to windows and creating a straight line of sight through that level of the building.

The most significant change to lighting in the building, however, took place through the entire center of the building, where a light well was opened up from the basement to the roof. At the third-floor level, a roof was added with skylights that allow daylight to flood the lower floors

of the building, including a large student lounge area at the basement level. Faculty offices on third- and fourth-floor mezzanine levels benefit from the light spilling into the open-air portion of the light well.

The project tapped a new approach to provide structural stability to the area opened up for light well. Instead of installing seismic upgrades under the floor, the project team used a material called fiber reinforced polymer, or FRP. The flexible material arrived on site in long rolls and was applied to the slab in long strips. After the material, which has a thickness of about one-eighth of an inch, was applied to the floor slab, it bonded to the concrete and hardened, forming a structural system.

"The FRP ties the building slab back to the shear core of the building in lieu of structural steel members," Geoff Miller, Fortis Construction's project manager, told the Business Tribune.

Take a seat

During early design-phase meetings with faculty and students, the project team received requests from students for more places to sit to study, eat and hang out. In addition to the basement level lounge, lounges were added to each floor with designs tailored to meet the needs of the departments housed there. The fourth-floor lounge area, for example, will serve mainly students studying math and statistics, and features mostly two- and four-person tables with chairs to accommodate the substantial tutoring that will go on in that area.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Students make themselves at home in one of the upper-floor student lounge areas.

New elevators were installed in locations that allow them to be accessed on all levels — including mezzanine offices. Those levels had no elevator access prior those the renovation.

"The building is now fully accessible for people with wheelchairs and mobility issues," Patterson said.

While most of the building boasts new features, there are still touches that pay tribute to the history of the building. Inside the structure, original concrete pillars have been revealed to show their texture. In one lounge area, an original terra cotta-style floor was retained.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Renovations at Fariborz Maseeh Hall included creating a light well through the center of the building, from basement to roof, and adding skylights and more windows.

On the exterior of the building, new aluminum panels have been installed on the east portion of the structure. The original brick on that side of the building was painted with a black overcoat, which darkened the original light brick slightly but still created a seamless connection with the building's west side.

While the nearly 20,000-square-foot result of the renovation has slightly less square footage than the original building (a result of the center being carved out for the light well), the final layout provides as much usable space as the structure before the renovation, according to Patterson.

Opening day

As with any building that has undergone a series of additions over the course of half a century, the project team encountered some unexpected challenges. PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Adding entrances on the east and west sides of the building created a ground-floor line of sight from the Park Blocks to Southwest Broadway.

Removing hazardous materials — from asbestos in old flooring to lead paint — at the start of the project, for example, required more time than initially anticipated. However, the project moved forward relatively smoothly, Patterson said. He gave much of the credit for that to Fortis. By applying a pull-planning strategy that brought subcontractors to the table early in the process to help with planning the construction schedule, the contractor was able to avoid the skilled labor shortage issues that have created challenges across the Portland metro area.

"This effort resulted in 100% buy-in (from subcontractors) starting from the preconstruction process, which built a more cohesive team," Miller said.

Having subs show up as planned was critical to keeping the project on track. With a plan to have the building ready for classes this fall, there was zero room for error.

"Slipping a month was not an option," Patterson said.

By the beginning of August, construction had wrapped up. Faculty move-ins began in mid-August and took about four weeks, wrapping up in mid-September. The schedule allowed for about two weeks to work out any bugs in the system. By the time students arrived and began filling the building for the first day of classes last Monday, Sept. 30, last-minute tweaks were limited to mainly small fixes, such as a power strip that wasn't working.

Patterson was on hand to watch as students started to settle into the building,

including taking advantage of the light-filled basement lounge area. Seeing the area in use was the final sign he needed that the project team had accomplished its goal.

"It's interesting to see (that area) being used as intended," Patterson said. "It's nice to know we got it right."

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