Since NCAR budgets have been nearly level in recent years (taking inflation into account), there's little money for the kind of 60,000-mile tune-up the lab needs. This summer NCAR management met with ML architect I. M. Pei and NSF sponsors to get their endorsement of a three-year, $12 million renovation plan that could begin as soon as next fall.
That will be none too soon, according to NCAR associate director Walt Dabberdt. In a memo to NSF, Walt notes that "we are at a critical juncture insofar as [ML's] future integrity and reliability are concerned. In spite of a conscientious commitment to building maintenance, there are a number of high-cost refurbishment items that we are unable to undertake without substantial one-time incremental resources. This is a situation common to virtually all buildings of comparable age."
According to Walt, NSF recognizes the gravity of the problem and has pledged to find money outside of NCAR's regular core funding to support the refurbishment. "Once we have a time frame in hand, Facilities Support Services will start planning in detail," says Walt. In the early 1990s, FSS hired consulting engineers to document the scope of needed ML repairs. More recently, FSS director Pat Harris and engineering manager Julie Emo took the consulting engineers' recommendations and brought them up to date.
The proposed repairs fall into three main categories:
Main entrance drive needs repaving; ML access for people with disabilities falls short of new guidelines.
Fire safety. While the B tower and parts of the second basement received fire sprinklers in 1993, the remaining 60% of ML is unsprinklered. In addition, the integrity of some ML fire walls needs to be ensured, and emergency lighting and exit lighting systems must be brought up to today's standards.
Hill road. "Colorado winters have been hard on the road and its drainage system," notes FSS. Wintertime sanding has clogged the road's culverts, and traffic skirts around cyclists and hikers in numbers unforeseen in the sixties. The project engineers suggest rebuilding the culvert system, resurfacing the roadway, and adding some type of bike/pedestrian path on the uphill side.
Air quality. A monitoring system with improved filtration and ventilation is planned.
Entrance drive. Like much of the concrete around the lab, the main entrance drive is beset by cracking and disintegration. The project includes replacement of the entire drive.
Nearly half of ML's roofs are due for replacement.
On the outside|
Concrete walls are cracking; windows need resealing.
Air distribution and humidification. The original dual-duct air system mixes hot and cold air continuously, wasting energy. Large zones are regulated by single thermostats serving multiple spaces. The refurbishment would include a more efficient, variable-air-volume system with smaller zones, saving some $85,000 a year. Also planned is the reintroduction of a humidification system. The original system was decomissioned in 1978 following the U.S. appearance of Legionnaires' disease, when it was found that air delivery systems inside large buildings could harbor the responsible bacteria. Instead of the old drain pan with standing water, the new humidification system would use steam, which kills bacteria before they enter the air stream.
Electrical infrastructure. Several disparate components of the ML electrical system are slated for upgrades. Feeder cables running through the mesa road's utility tunnel system would be removed from the tunnels, upgraded, and directly buried, thus reducing the risk of their failure during spring runoff. The building's electrical distribution system needs radical renovation to meet the demands of modern workstations, even after this summer's ML rewiring project. Finally, an electronic building automation system would be added to monitor operations and minimize risk from electrical system failure.
ML's aging dual boilers are prone to breakdown.
Kitchen. The original ML kitchen falls short of recently strengthened building codes. The refurbishment plan includes a new exhaust system and a grease trap for the sanitary system.
"It's like a house or a car that you have to maintain. You know you have to put money into it at regular intervals, and if you don't, you'll have to suffer the consequences. Here at the Mesa Lab, the consequences could be a boiler failure in the middle of winter that could literally shut this place down for weeks or months." BH
Architect I.M. Pei, who went on to design the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris, among other projects, was inspired by the Anasazi cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. "Their buildings are always comfortable with the land itself," says Pei, who echoed the Anasazi's elemental, geometric forms in the NCAR design.
"When I first saw the NCAR site, I was so excited," Pei recalls. "All my work to that point had been in cities. Then suddenly I was offered the opportunity to create something in this spectacular setting."
Two AIA Colorado chapters, Denver and Colorado North, independently nominated the Mesa Lab for the 25-year award. Stephen Loos, incoming Colorado North president, looks to award winners as "exemplars of what we ought to strive for in every project." The three previous recipients are the Engineering Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder (1994), the Hyperbolic Paraboloid at Denver's Zeckendorf Plaza (1995; another Pei creation, since torn down for the Adams Mark Hotel addition), and the Boettcher Memorial Center at the Denver Botanic Gardens (1996). Zhenya Gallon