Philadelphia Police Forensic Science Center
By Krista Walton | From Preservation | January/February 2008
Cecil Baker & Associates,
The children who once attended the Mary Channing Wister School probably never imagined that their classrooms would one day be transformed into a police shooting range. Yet the art deco school building, which had languished unused in north Philadelphia for years, underwent a massive rehabilitation and was reincarnated as the Philadelphia Police Forensic Science Center—the first green building commissioned by the city.
"Philadelphia has a huge supply of empty older buildings," says Spencer Finch, director of sustainable development for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which gave the project a 2007 Sustainability Award. "Sadly, most of them are knocked down—but this project really set an example for how those buildings can be reused."
The rehab cost $13 million—20 percent less than what it would have cost to build a new lab. The 44,000-square-foot building also uses half the energy of a typical forensics lab and emits almost 70 percent less carbon dioxide than a non-green building of its size. Contractors removed asphalt from the surrounding lot to open up old streambeds and ameliorate severe flooding by allowing the earth to absorb stormwater. Recycled materials were used wherever possible, and high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, as well as natural lighting through windows, allows the building to operate on minimal electricity. The concrete-frame, brick-infill exterior was repointed, and the art deco details were cleaned and restored. Now, with its crime scene unit, laboratories for fiber and blood analysis, and shooting range for ballistics analysis, the center handles forensic evidence for the entire city.
"A lot of older buildings," says Cecil Baker of the Cecil Baker & Associates architecture firm, "are suitable for sustainable technology retrofits—sturdy structures with tall ceilings and lots of space to run mechanicals as you need them. The bones of these old buildings are just terrific."
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