Preserving an important piece of New Hanover County’s architectural heritage, and setting an example for sustainable development in the 21st century, the county’s refurbished downtown office building officially opened this month.
The six-story building has been a Wilmington landmark for many years, but five years ago it suffered damage from leaking water pipes, which put its future in doubt. A careful makeover, completed late in 2015, has made it once again an important public asset.
The building stands at 320 Chestnut St., at the corner of North Fourth Street, just a block from the New Hanover County Courthouse. It will house several court-related agencies, including the public defender, the New Hanover County Department of Community Justice Services, and the Guardian ad Litem program. It will also be the new home for the Register of Deeds, which is moving from its offices on North Second Street near the main library and at the Government Center in February.
Among the qualities we’re proudest of is the building’s energy efficiency, from its innovative “green roof” down to individual climate-control systems in each office. That is fitting, because before it served as New Hanover County’s main administrative office building, it was built as the headquarters of the former Tidewater Power Company. That was a predecessor to Carolina Power & Light, now part of Duke Energy Progress. Considered ultramodern when it was built in 1950, the building’s features include energy-saving elements that are in vogue today. Louvered overhangs above the windows serve as sun shades on hot summer days, but still allow for solar heat gain in the winter when the sun is lower. This reduces the power demand on cooling and heating systems.
The green roof is a garden, with plantings and topsoil that help to insulate the structure. The green roof also catches and stores rainwater, rather than just sluicing it down pipes and into the city’s storm drain system. This sharply reduces the amount of runoff that has to be managed, which in turn prevents contaminants from entering the Cape Fear River.
New high-efficiency insulating windows help prevent energy loss, and in some spaces are bringing in natural light for the first time. The formerly blank west wall has entirely new windows, which give views toward downtown and the Cape Fear River.
One of the challenges of renovating an old building, designed before air conditioning was universal, is that its sturdy reinforced concrete structure makes it difficult to run modern HVAC ducting. In the building’s previous life, false ceilings hid air ducts but also reduced headroom, making offices feel cramped.
Making a virtue of necessity, the new design dispenses with cumbersome, energy-intensive central heating and air conditioning plants and uses state-of-the-art individual units. That means that each office’s temperature can be individually controlled, sharply cutting the entire building’s energy use. For example, it’s no longer necessary to heat and cool the entire building if just a handful of people are working at night or on a weekend.
The $10 million renovation was designed by Sawyer, Sherwood and Associate Architecture of Wilmington, and built by Monteith Construction Corp. The project came in on budget and nearly on schedule, with only a 30 day delay due to some unforeseen issues.
Preserving a historic building, saving energy and water, and setting an example for how other buildings can be updated: These are some of the ways that New Hanover County is serving as the model of good governance.
You can find a video of the ribbon cutting on NHCTV’s YouTube Channel.
New Hanover County is committed to progressive public policy, superior service, courteous contact, judicious exercise of authority, and sound fiscal management to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow. See more at http://www.nhcgov.com.
Audrey Elsberry - Sep 22, 2023
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