Motor City Metamorphosis

Detroit is rebounding; it continues to flourish and rise as a premier city to live, work and play. Along with its booming real estate development and the revitalization of both its public and private spaces, the Motor City is revving up to establish itself as a revitalized destination for companies and entrepreneurs.

Renovated Detroit union hall gets modernized with sustainable energy

By Mark Robins

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Corktown is the heart of the Motor City. It’s Detroit’s oldest neighborhood and is registered as a National Historic District. In 1964, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 58, the electrical labor union representing electrical, telecom, broadcast and manufacturing workers in Eastern Michigan, built its union hall here. The facility was basically an uninsulated envelope with an outdated boiler heating plant and rooftop cooling units.

The leadership of IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Southeastern Michigan Chapters recognized the need to prepare electrical apprentices to work in the emerging sustainable building industry, and for the workforce to perform a job competently requires extensive training. The IBEW Local 58 was compelled to walk the talk, and committed to repurpose and modernize their 33,000-square-foot 1964 Corktown facility into a state-of-the-art training and demonstration center. With this goal, it seized the opportunity to launch its own energy efficiency strategy toward a net zero energy model. Keeping pace with the revitalization of Detroit, the old union hall’s modernization manifests the evolution and transformation of IBEW Local 58’s business mission gearing up to establish itself as leaders in energy conservation and sustainable careers.


Kenneth Nielsen, PE, president of The Nielsen Group, Alpena, Mich., provided engineering consulting services for the headquarters beginning with an ASHRAE Level 2 Energy Audit. “It is the first and largest commercial Zero Net Energy building in Michigan,” he says. “Metal panels provide a visual wow factor and result in durable, attractive walls with greatly improved R-values.”

To do this, the building was modernized with cutting-edge technology. This included variable refrigerant volume HVAC utilizing a geothermal heat exchange, very lowvoltage LED lighting, and a programmable controls and energy monitoring system. A 174 kW solar array consisting of 600 photovoltaic panels from Commerce Township, Mich.-based Michigan Solar & Wind Power Solutions that cover the entire building’s roof generate renewable power-harvesting solar energy to zero net the actual used electrical power from the grid.

Because of the extreme seasonal shifts in outdoor temperature range and weather conditions in Michigan, one of the most significant elements of the project goals was “super insulating” the building envelope. “This was done by applying high thermoresistance insulation, eliminating air infiltration with sealants and caulk, and reducing thermal bridging at all accessible points,” says James S. Yu, RA, NCARB, president of SYDESIGN, Port Huron, Mich.

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A vast 1964-era glass curtainwall on the north façade had to be replaced. “During the 1960s, the glass curtainwall symbolized the epitome of minimalism without any consideration for energy conservation; the new wall assembly with heavy emphasis on super insulation demonstrates the evolution of technology innovation and is a transformation by retrofit,” Yu adds. To comply with the zero energy model, the curtainwall had to attain a calculated thermo resistance of at least an R-value of 30. The sloped roof assembly is designed for R-50 at storm drain locations and exceeds R-90 near parapets.

A structurally insulated panel system (SIPS) supplied by Insulspan, Blissfield, Mich., and installed by Jasman Construction, Plymouth, Mich., was selected to replace the glass curtainwall for its highly effective insulating property and its relative light weight. Peachtree Corners, Ga.-based Fabral Metal Wall and Roof Systems’ protective metal panel skin was applied over the SIPS for weather protection and aesthetic appeal. According to Fabral marketing manager Sarah O’Neal, Fabral’s 4-inch Rib was used as a vertical wall panel in Bright Copper color and the HCF Series 12 panel was used for a horizontal rib application in Bright Silver color.

Yu says the combination of Fabral metal panels over the SIPS to build the new walls was a cost-effective way to meet all performance requirements for durability, accelerated procurement lead time, flexibility of field adjustments for rapid installation time, and aesthetic result realizing the architectural concept.

“Technical scrutiny was made for structural connections to the existing steel columns and girders as the total load impacted by the combined weight of the new wall section could not exceed that of the original designed values without substantial modifications to the structure,” Yu adds.

Before image of the IBEW facility


The facility also has new aluminum storefronts and entrances supplied by Tubelite Inc., Walker, Mich. and installed by Edwards Glass Co., Livonia, Mich.; glazing, and an insulated roofing system supplied by Carlisle Syn- Tec Systems, Carlisle, Pa,. and installed by J.D. Candler Roofing Co., Livonia, Mich. These elements enable the super-insulated building to increase energy efficiency to high performance.

Yu says the emblematic use of the specified surface colors and finishes of the metal panels represents some key aspects of the electrical trade both literally and figuratively. The vertical Bright Copper-colored panels applied vertically along the length of the Porter Street’s north façade—prominently visible to pedestrians or from vehicular traffic—represent a copper electrical power busbar. In the electrical trade, busbars conduct substantial current of electricity for electrical power distribution.

Copper is a primary material utilized in most electrical wiring work. The accents of Bright Silver colored horizontal panels applied horizontally reflect the galvanized metal conduits used to protect copper wiring. The angled trim application where each vertical rib panel connects to another or aligns to transition into a horizontal segment creates a subtle rhythm of movement acknowledging that electrical current is a dynamic force and not a static charge.

The project has won the 2018 Michigan Governor’s Energy Excellence award for Best Private Commercial Project and won First Place award in the Michigan Battle of the Buildings with a 21 percent reduction of energy use from 2017. “Overall an 83 percent reduction in energy use has been achieved. 2015,” Nielsen says. It’s within the top percentile ranking nationally for renovated buildings.