A Good, Clean, Honest Building

EJ Basler Co., a manufacturer of precision machined parts for the medical, automotive, plumbing, defense and other industries is revitalizing an entire block in an aging suburban light industrial park near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Developed in the late-1940s and early-1950s, the park was dominated by masonry buildings. They tended to have low ceiling heights and had become old and obsolete.

The judges laud the dramatic transformation, the large design gestures and the beauty of the workplace

By Paul Deffenbaugh

Photos Patsy McEnroe

In one of those buildings, the ceiling failed a number of years ago and the previous owner constructed a metal building system over it like a tent, leaving the lower walls in place. By 2019, though, that renovated building had fallen into disrepair.

Instead of tearing down the old building, the owner called on Amstadter Architects. “The steel building had rigid bends with bar joists and splayed beams to create the trusses, covered with light-gauge metal siding,” says Marc Amstadter, principal at the Chicago-based firm. “The old roof had been torn off and you looked up through the old building into this building. If you can imagine someone plopping a steel building on top of and enveloping an old masonry building, that’s what it was.”

<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/566651615?h=f956f0bbe4" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href="https://vimeo.com/566651615">New Building Tour</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/user138420457">E.J. Basler</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

A Renovated Renovation

Since the steel structure was in good shape, Amstadter’s solution was to redo the metal building system, adding new cladding with insulated metal panels (IMPs). Both the metal building system and the IMPs were supplied by Ecosteel, Laguna Niguel, Calif., but the IMPs were manufactured by All Weather Insulated Panels, Vacaville, Calif.

Meco Erection Inc. did the structural work as well as installing the insulated metal panels. Justin Montgomery is CEO of the Morris, Ill., company. “They were thinking of demoing the building,” he says, “but then they got engineers and architects involved, and obviously ECOSteel, they decided to use the structure that was there and design new buildings around it and tie into it. So, everything had to be demoed on that building besides the structure.”

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More than a Reskin

The project did more than just reinforce and reskin an existing metal building. While the frame was in good condition, workers needed to replace girts and purlins. “All the cold-formed stuff needed replacing,” says Amstadter. “And it had to be reinforced against the wind. We couldn’t get enough diaphragm action out of the sandwich panels, so we had to add to the structure.”

“A lot of reinforcement had to be added,” says Montgomery. “We were putting a lot of units on the roof. Once all that was done, we had them come in and paint the frame. Then we put IMPs on roof and walls and trim. These types of builds are really fast compared to conventional steel. It was just a couple of months to get that whole project done.”

The team poured a new slab over the existing slab of the 32,000-square-foot building and built an addition to the back to connect the building to EJ Basler’s existing production facility next door. It is also a metal building but on a different height, so the addition needed to be ramped to make the connection.

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A Vibrant, Efficient Interior

The large clear spans (120 feet across) allowed for considerable flexibility in designing the shop floor and presented a freer movement of materials. Clerestory windows on the east and west walls provide plenty of natural light, and the entire interior is painted white, giving it a fresh, clean, vibrant look. Amstadter points out that the lighting is set to 80% down.

The large curtainwall lets in north-facing light, but EJ Basler also wanted it for marketing purposes. The company wanted its modern equipment to be visible from the street, showcasing its capabilities.

EJ Basler is part of the re-shoring of American manufacturing and has seen considerable growth over the last few years. Currently, it runs two to three shifts in its new, modern production facility and ships precision parts all over the world. It is such a hectic period that a major consideration for the renovation was making sure there was enough parking for employees.

Eco Steel Ej Basler Before 3

Over the years, renovations account for about 30% of the construction market, but recently, the American Institute of Architects’ Architectural Billing Index had renovation activity at more than half of the market. As renovations become more constant, this type of project will become a regular occurrence.

According to Montgomery, the company has since purchased all the buildings on the block to expand the company’s capacity, and most of those buildings need to be replaced. But in renovation projects, the drama of the transformation is often exciting, and this transformation from a one-story masonry building to a dilapidated metal building system to a modern product facility has drama to spare.

Perhaps the highest praise though comes from Amstadter. “It’s a good, clean, honest building,” he says.

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