Breathing New Life into Aging Facilities
By Dale R. Yoder, AIA
Breathing New Life into Aging Facilities… with all the talk these days about
Green Design and Sustainability, and alongside it LEED® projects, there is
nothing more green than breathing new life into existing building stock! It
can be giving new life to tired facilities that are well worn and need some
tender loving care, yet more or less serve the same functions. Or it can
involve radical transformation in which it would be considered an adaptive
re-use… design changes to reposition the facility to be more appropriate and
useful for a new function and use.
What does sustainability really imply? The definitions according to
a. “…able to be used without being completely used up
b. “…involving methods that do not completely use up or
destroy natural resources”
c. “…able to last or continue for a long time” 1
All three have relevancy to the architectural design world, and I’ll briefly
address each one in relation to Breathing New Life into Aging Facilities. In
the first definition, “…able to be used without being completely used up or
destroyed,” 1 it may seem like a facility has outlived its usefulness… and
occasionally that may be true… but we believe more times than not, if
structurally sound, we can help reposition it in a new, fresh and vibrant
way! Let’s not be too quick to judge it as “…being completely used up or
destroyed,” 1 rather look to the possibilities!
In the second definition, “…involving methods that do not completely use up
or destroy natural resources,” 1 being good stewards of our natural
resources is important, but too many times Green Design gets viewed narrowly
in this manner. Whenever feasible… whenever it makes good economic sense… or
whenever it is a matter of principle, making design choices to implement
wise choices that preserves natural resources is good decision-making. Yet
if we destroy an existing facility that could have had new life breathed
into it… then we believe we have turned our backs on the most Green thing we
could do… no matter the wise stewardship choices made while building new…
which ties into the third definition.
In the third definition, and this is the one that resonates the most with my
passion, is “…able to last or continue for a long time.” 1 Anything… and
everything… we can do to envision repurposing existing building stock moves
its usefulness and duration into the next generation… in essence enabling it
“…to last or continue for a long time” 1!
We at Cornerstone Design-Architects, believe that there is great value in
Breathing New Life into Aging Facilities, as good stewards of what we
currently own or possess, and/or to improve our environments by breathing
new life into blighted buildings and neighborhoods. Not only do we have a
passion for Breathing New Life into Aging Facilities and coming alongside of
transforming the facility of a client… but we live with this passion each
day we are working in our own office.
2007, we were working with the former CEO of Auntie Anne’s Corporation to
reposition the old Post Office Building in Downtown, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
as their corporate headquarters. I asked to see the rest of the building and
walked into an old attic space… storage since the building was constructed
in 1928 and said, “Wow, this would make a nice office! Would you consider
converting it? He said, “Let’s talk”.
underutilized space transformed into a unique and inviting work environment.
We added natural light via roof windows, but needed to keep the ones along
both street exposures below the balustrade, to preserve the historical look
of the building. We also added a mezzanine to gain more floor area and the
ability to see across the cityscape on the south side, allowing wonder
daylight to cascade down over the workstations below. The repurposing of
this space has enabled us to showcase our design talents as our mission
states, “To Responsively and Creatively Design Facilities of Significance”
where the client defines “Significance”… in this case it was our definition
that we responded to and found creative sustainable solutions and a breathe
of new life to reposition the space for years into the future!
Breathing New Life into Aging Facilities can make economic sense. After the
Great Recession of 2008, many of us have made economic adjustments and have
had to rethink how we spend our limited resources. Plans for new and
improved have sometimes transitioned into “having to make due.” Yet, that
isn’t necessarily a bad thing! It has forced us to be more responsive and
creative with what is already in place… maybe even forcing a new kind of
good stewardship that is very Green in approach… giving more long-term life
and viability to building stock already in place.
example, we have worked with a few senior living projects in which creative
solution finding has transformed tired and aging facilities into vibrant
homelike environments for their resident population. It can make good
economic sense to spend on transformation rather than replace with new, more
One example is Homestead Village in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster
County, Pennsylvania. They had developed a master plan that included the
development of a new health center. The economic times pushed that reality
well out into the future and we were selected to create households in their
existing facility to transition them away from the institutional model that
We found ways to capture volume under the roof structure, arrange the
households with a shared commercial kitchen between them, while each
household has their own resident kitchen, dining and living rooms. The
planning also allows for a phase two with modest additions that will allow
the introduction of a third household for memory support care. The economics
forced creative solution finding, but the end result was not only
affordable, and very much transformed the living experience of the resident!
senior living example is Chapel Pointe in Carlisle Borough, Pennsylvania.
After looking at potential health center renovations numerous times in the
past ten years, the decision was made to create three households with
private rooms, and maintain the 69 licensed beds. A contractor had suggested
expanding out and into the lower level of an adjacent independent living
building, but the Department of Health regulations would not enable
expansion into a two story of that construction type. What to do?
The next solution suggested by the design-build contractor was to displace
the apartments and utilize the area of the footprint for the existing
building to create the expansion for the health center.
At a design meeting, we suggested a concept to place the third household at
a second floor level perpendicular to the existing health center,
essentially building out over part of it. The concept was embraced and the
best part was that it saved approximately $1.5 million in budget, while
preserving all the independent units that existed. In fact, with a strategic
placement of the elevator and pedestrian bridges, the second floor of the
independent living apartments were also made accessible!
Empty retail spaces are plentiful and/or shopping centers/malls have a high
percentage of vacancies as supposed newer and better centers are built,
attracting tenants from older, tired facilities. With creative thinking and
planning, such spaces and facilities can have new life breathed into them
for many different functions. Some are even being transitioned for senior
living and big box stores can make a nice conversion into a church facility.
Often parking is plentiful since the retail function already had many spaces
in place and the land development issues related to greenfield site become
less of a factor, pending the local municipality regulations.
years ago, we converted a former Kmart store into a 600 seat church facility
in southern York County, Pennsylvania. Grace Fellowship was a church plant
from a congregation in northern Maryland, and needed economical space being
a recent start up site. Several columns were removed, and sizable girders
installed, in order to provide more clear sightlines to the platform, but a
building in much deterioration had new life breathed into it in a dynamic
way. We sometimes immediately gravitate to the new, but this is a shining
example of being responsible stewards of existing building stock and
repositioning for usefulness
for years to come!
Warehouse spaces… are good potential adaptive re-use facilities if one has a
client with a broad enough vision and the courage/money to invest. Recently,
we have had the privilege of working with a client that purchased a vacant
warehouse in Landisville, Pennsylvania with a vision to transition that
facility into the largest indoor sports and recreation facility in America
(14 acres under roof). Numerous rows of columns were eliminated and support
provided by steel girder trusses to provide open spaces for indoor fields.
One area can transition from four indoor soccer fields to ten indoor field
hockey pitches to thirty volleyball courts, as well as provide an expansive
exhibition hall. Soon to be constructed, as the final phase is a 135 room,
three story hotel and 265 seat restaurant with half the rooms and a portion
of the restaurant fronting on an indoor street. This facility has also
become the home for the National Training Center for the USA Olympic Field
I hope you are catching the vision about Breathing New Life into Aging
Facilities because it is a very responsible and green approach, utilizing
existing building stock. Designing new facilities is enjoyable, but
breathing new life into what already exists seems more responsible. Yet the
greatest obstacle can be the zoning, historical and building code
environments which become more and more restrictive over time. For success
in Breathing New Life into Aging Facilities, I dream of a day when Federal,
State and local municipalities provide some balance in regulations to make
it economically feasible, yet safe for the occupants, and provide up front
assurances so developers and owners can proceed confidently with such
revitalization absent from fear of roadblocks down the road. Let’s together
figure out ways to Breath New Life into Aging Facilities!
1. Merriam – Webster online dictionary at
About the author: Dale R. Yoder, AIA is president of Cornerstone
Design-Architects in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He shares his passion for
designing dynamic worship, educational and performance spaces calling on his
Bachelor of Science in Architecture, (Cum Laude) Temple University, and a
Master of Arts in Theological Studies, (Magna Cum Laude) Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary. Cornerstone Design -Architects’ Vision and Master
Planning programs are extremely successful as a result of his
mission-centered guidance and experience. Dale also recently attended The
Harvard University, Graduate School of Design, “Theaters for a New Century,
“Housing and Services for a New Generation of Elders.”