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South Hills Retirement Residence / Pittsburgh

  • The schools tall windows and grand volumes offered amenities rarely feasible in affordable housing.

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    The schools tall windows and grand volumes offered amenities rarely feasible in affordable housing.

    Denmarsh Photography

    The school’s tall windows and grand volumes offered amenities rarely feasible in affordable housing.

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    The lobby of South Hill Retirement Residence, a participant in the LEED for Homes Multifamily pilot program.

    Denmarsh Photography

    The lobby of South Hill Retirement Residence, a participant in the LEED for Homes Multifamily pilot program.

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    A curtain wall hangs where the auditorium once stood, providing deep daylight penetration.

    Denmarsh Photography

    A curtain wall hangs where the auditorium once stood, providing deep daylight penetration.

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    A typical apartment interior. A blower door test of each unit ensured that the envelope was properly sealed.

    Denmarsh Photography

    A typical apartment interior. A blower door test of each unit ensured that the envelope was properly sealed.

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    The developer received a grant for the cogeneration plant, which cost $271,000 and has a projected payback of 11 years.

    Denmarsh Photography

    The developer received a grant for the cogeneration plant, which cost $271,000 and has a projected payback of 11 years.

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    A 26-kW PV array mitigates energy use during peak load hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

    Denmarsh Photography

    A 26-kW PV array mitigates energy use during peak load hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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    The new rooftop greenhouse has views of the city.

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    The new rooftop greenhouse has views of the city.

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    Ornate handrails were salvaged from the auditorium balcony.

    Denmarsh Photography

    Ornate handrails were salvaged from the auditorium balcony.

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    Naturally lit common spaces enhance social connections.

    Denmarsh Photography

    Naturally lit common spaces enhance social connections.

 

Reusing existing buildings is inherently sustainable, but it’s often messy, and the old South Hills High School was no exception. Imagine shoveling out 10 tons of avian waste and abating, piece by piece, oak floors and doors ruined by rain. (The behemoth building had sat vacant for 35 years while the roof rotted and birds flew through.)

Yet transforming it into 106 affordable and market-rate seniors apartments was more than a symbolic gesture. The design team calculated that the embodied energy saved was equal to roughly 5 gallons of gasoline per square foot, translating into 15 years of projected energy expenses for the landmark building.

To make the project work financially and programmatically, a dimly lit shop wing and auditorium were removed, though the balcony’s ornate hand railings were salvaged. R-50 closed-cell foam sprayed on the existing roof deck boosted insulation values.

Brick wall interiors were layered with 2 inches of spray foam, then stuffed with R-19 fiberglass batts between metal studs. And the gas-powered cogeneration plant, combined with a 26-kW PV array, is projected to reduce operating costs to $161,000 per year, from $237,000 for an ASHRAE-compliant building.

Despite the building’s gifts—tall windows and grand volumes—many developers, daunted by the construction challenges, had passed on this project.

“To get it accomplished, our client had about seven funding sources; it wasn’t a slam dunk,” says architect Laura Nettleton of Thoughtful Balance. “I feel best about the quality we achieved for the amount of money spent. It feels like a boutique hotel.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Pittsburgh, PA.