Emerson School Hard Hat Tour Recap

The tour group consisted of 14 Denver Architectural Foundation members and five members from the non-profit organizations that will occupy the building once it is complete.

Built in 1885, the Emerson School was designed by Colorado’s first master architect, Robert Roeschlaub, who was known for his innovative school designs. It is the oldest remaining example of a Roeschlaub-designed school in Colorado along with being the oldest standing school in Colorado. The school building is a two-story masonry structure with a one-story “cottage school” that was added in 1917.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (the Trust) is rehabilitating the 20,000-square-foot building, which features timber frame construction, thick masonry walls, large windows, and high ceilings. The building is being converted to house several historic preservation organizations including the Trust’s Denver Office, Historic Denver, Inc., and Colorado Preservation, Inc., as well as Howard Dental, a non-profit organization that provides dental care to low-income patients with HIV/AIDS.

The project includes restoration of many of the original building features including removing stucco that was applied to portions of the exterior brick and re-pointing the brick, restoring the wood wainscot throughout the school, restoring the original exterior windows, removing false ceilings and partitions that have been added over the years, and completely re-landscaping the site. Energy conservation measures include super-insulating the attic, opening up the interior to allow natural daylighting and passive ventilation, replacing inefficient lighting, and completely replacing the heating and cooling system.

As the renovation nears completion, the overall feel of the school is very open and airy, and the daylighting was remarkable. The heating and cooling system is a modern “geo-exchange” system, which takes advantage of the relatively constant and moderate temperature of the ground to help heat and cool the building. Geo-exchange systems can reduce energy costs by more than 44% over a conventional system because they move three to five times more heat energy than the electricity they consume.

The Trust is seeking LEED certification for the building and energy use is projected to be 40% lower than what is currently required by code. In addition, the Trust intends to continue improving the performance of the building over time in order to meet the carbon-neutral target set by 2030 Challenge. For example, photovoltaic panels will be added to the building as the costs of the panels come down.