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Tivoli Student Union

Project Information

From Renovation Nightmare to Dream Come True

Build a brewery in 1866, morph it into a shopping mall a century later, turn it into a student union 10 years after that, and what results? A renovator's worst nightmare: 16 different buildings, major mismatched remodeling and an overall aesthetically-challenged structure encompassing 324,000-square-feet of warped and rotting windows, leaking roofs, peeling paint and crumbling masonry.

But as the Tivoli Student Union shows, even nightmares can have excellent outcomes. Acting as owner and landlord, Auraria Higher Education Center leases Tivoli's space to three educational institutions: Denver Community College, Metropolitan State College, and the University of Colorado at Denver. Dramatically improving this multi-use facility, the Center recently completed a $20 million exterior and interior makeover. The massive project involved everything from complex paint removal, mortar repair and brick replacement, to replacing all of the structure's 19 roofs and replacing exterior lighting, adding an entirely new mechanical system, upgrading the electrical and fire detection systems, and replacing more than 180 window units with custom-fitted, energy-efficient, historically stylized windows from Kolbe.

"The Tivoli was transformed into one of the campus's most attractive and historically appealing buildings, resulting in an enhanced sense of attachment by the students," says Gary Petri, principal-in-charge for SlaterPaull Architects of Denver. "The building operates on student fees, so it would not be putting it too strongly to say that the makeover has generated strong proprietary feelings on the part of the students."

The project included the preservation of the historic buildings and substantial tenant remodels and adaptive re-use of others. Twenty-eight school departments, 22 private businesses, 19 separate conference/event facilities, eight study lounges and two computer labs remained in full operation throughout the project.

Petri said that as he began the project, he identified and prequalified a handful of window manufacturers whom he felt could replicate windows to the desired standards. "Window replacement was a critical part of the renovation functionally and visually, and I determined that Kolbe's window units would make a great contribution to the final result."

Mark Wernimont, Colorado Sash and Door, Inc.'s president and project manager emphasized that the project's sensitive aesthetics were key. "The Tivoli demanded a level of detail from us that we have never been required to do on any other historic project. But when you are talking about a structure that is not only on the National Register of Historic Places but also a designated Denver Landmark, the standard of detail called for was certainly justified."

According to Wernimont, there was nothing standard or routine about the window specifications. "Of the 182 window openings we dealt with, there were only 12 that are the same size. Virtually all of them varied in dimension." There are also several different window profiles, seven different brick facings and four different mortar types. "You can begin to see how tough it was to wind up with a window solution that could replicate the Tivoli's historic character."

Wernimont continues, "We quickly concluded that in order to proceed with this project, we would need to find a window manufacturer with the capabilities for – and the level with – producing the custom frame and sash elements that would be put together on site, rather than at the factory. Kolbe filled the bill; not only did they have a base product with the right types of details, they were totally receptive to the product being modified on-site to achieve the architectural goals."

Not only did Kolbe's window units have to meet the aesthetic expectations, they had to meet necessary energy and performance requirements, including higher than normal wind loads. "The winds coming down the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains can get pretty fierce, producing as much loading as in a hurricane alley. Winds in the 80-90 mph range are not uncommon, and the record wind speed is about 140 mph. That's why the city and county of Denver both require a 100 mph basis for wind loads on all historic renovation structures," explains Wernimont. Meeting all the necessary criteria, Kolbe's window products relied on LoE²-270 glass. The extruded frames were finished in steel blue and extruded sash in camel, with pine interior wood trim.

In addition to replacing the nearly 200 window units, Colorado Sash and Door also provided the custom brickmould, sill and mullion extrusions to hide the existing frames and mimic the original, historic windows. Contributing to the challenges of Tivoli's custom window installation was the sheer size of some of the units. "We're talking about some huge window combination assemblies – 10-feet-wide by 27-feet-tall," Wernimont noted. Many of the larger windows had structural steel elements embedded in them to handle the structural load.

The window of all windows was approximately 70-square-feet, which Wernimont dubbed "The Monster." This window could only be put into place by lifting it up the main face of the building to the roof, moving it across to another roof, and then lowering it into place. It took 10 weeks to install the windows on Tivoli's main face. Start to finish, Colorado Sash and Door invested three years in Tivoli's renovation.

"This was one of the most intense and challenging window replacement and installation projects I've ever been part of," Wernimont admits. "I drew on every bit of my 30-plus years of construction, carpentry and millworking experience. What made this project happen, and what made it successful, was the combination of an installer that could pull off putting the components together, and the manufacturing flexibility and expertise provided by Kolbe."

The decision to renovate the Tivoli has paid off with a Community Preservation Award from Historic Denver in 2004, an Association of General Contractors' ACE Award in 2005, and recognition in Colorado's Westword magazine as the "Best Building Makeover in 2006." The Tivoli also has been submitted for several design awards, including those of the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

  • Community Preservation Award from Historic Denver in 2004
  • Association of General Contractors' ACE Award in 2005
  • Best Building Makeover in 2006 by Colorado's Westword Magazine
  • Auraria Higher Education Center, acting owner and landlord
  • SlaterPaull Architects
  • Design Consultants: BCER Engineers Inc., Insite Design,. J.R. Harris & Assoc. JVA Consulting Engineers, Rider Hunt & Levitt, Rolf Jensen, SR + dk Consulting, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Kumar & Associates, Anderson & Hastings, E-Cubed
  • Gerald H. Phipps Inc., general contractor
  • Colorado Sash & Door, Kolbe window & door dealer
  • Tivoli Student Union website

Related Whitepaper: Windows & Doors' Contribution to Educational Excellence

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