Welcome Center at the University of Minnesota – Morris, Morris

The selection of the University of Minnesota Morris Welcome Center for a Minnesota Preservation Award in the Sustainability category should come as no surprise.  The University has achieved its goal of carbon neutrality and energy self-sufficiency with the aid of wind turbines and a biomass facility.  The project architects—Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle (MS&R)—have been the masters of inspired adaptive reuses of historic structures for 30 years.  Merging the forces of sustainable energy, sustainable design, and sustainable reuse of an existing building further demonstrates that the University of Minnesota Morris is leading the way for institutions statewide.

Certified LEED-Gold in 2011, the University of Minnesota Morris Welcome Center is a modern, light-filled renovation of the school’s 1915 engineering building, a brick structure listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The building now houses admissions, continuing education, and the Center for Small Towns.  MS&R led the restoration of the historic exterior, which included reopening windows that had been bricked-in in the 1970s.  Daylight now fills an open, 21st-century interior with rural flourishes: wheatgrass embedded in translucent partition panels, sustainable carpeting in the colors and pattern of farm fields as seen from above.

Reclaimed and recycled materials are used throughout the building, with the largest reclaimed element being the building itself.  However, the project’s most talked-about green feature is its use of chilled beams—thin pipes running cold water across ceilings, lightly blown with air—to cool the building. The technology is popular in Europe, but the Welcome Center is the first Minnesota building and the first entire building on the National Register to use it.  If the chilled beams aren’t enough to signal this project’s intentions, an energy kiosk in the lobby charts the campus’ energy performance in real time.

For forging a new path that recognizes the green value of adaptive reuse, the respect for low-tech, sustainable design features in historic buildings, and the sensitive integration of high-tech energy-efficient systems, we recognize the project participants with the 2011 Sustainable Design Award.

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This picture was taken of the building in 1927.

A view of the building upon completion of the work.

Owner: University of Minnesota – Morris; Architecture and Interior Design: Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. (MS&R); Mechanical / Electrical Engineers: Karges-Faulconbridge, Inc. (KFI); Structural / Civil Engineers: BKBM Engineers; Landscape Architect: Oslund and Associates, Inc.; General Contractor: JE Dunn Construction North Central