The city of Tucson, Arizona has a rich history, reflected in the wide array of historic buildings and structures that color the oldest city in Arizona with glimpses of the past. Sundt is proud to have a large number of current and completed renovation projects across the city that address the needs of a modern population while preserving their historic charm.
Sundt’s achievements in historic preservation in Tucson were recognized by ENR Southwest this year, with the UArizona Chemistry-Physics building (or, “Old Chem”) winning Best Project of 2023 in the Renovation category, and the Tucson Convention Center (TCC) winning the Award of Merit.
“When we work on projects like these, it’s like going back in time,” said VP and Regional Director in Tucson, Ian McDowell. “Some of the work is even a window into our own history, and Old Chem is a great example of this as Sundt constructed the original building back in 1936. We are not only preserving the architecture, but also the legacy of the Sundt builders who came before us.”
UArizona Chemistry-Physics (“Old Chem”) building
ENR Southwest Best Project of 2023, Renovation category
The UArizona Chemistry-Physics building, now affectionately called “Old Chem,” was one of five buildings Sundt constructed on campus in 1936 funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Recently, Sundt renovated the 55,000-square-foot building and constructed an adjacent three-story, 23,000-square-foot building called The Commons, working with architectural firms Shepley Bulfinch, architect of record, and Poster Mirto McDonald who consulted on historic preservation. Old Chem is part of the campus’ 18-building historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so preserving as much of the original architecture was a key consideration. But the old building had significant signs of wear, and the existing laboratories and classrooms were inadequate to house the latest education technology. Additionally, the building did not comply with current energy codes, and was not an operationally high performing building.
In collaborating with the University, it was agreed that the original building from 1936 was the most important piece of the historic portion to preserve. To keep costs low for the University while maximizing historic preservation and the needs of students, the team developed the hybrid solution of preserving half of the 1948 addition, demolishing the 1962 addition and creating a new building.
A significant amount of work and care was dedicated to return the façade to its historic configuration. Bricks were salvaged from the demoed portions of the buildings for reuse and the masons from trade partner Sun Valley Construction did an incredible job recreating the historic south face of Old Chem. What was once an underutilized courtyard in the center of the building is now a spacious, enclosed entry lobby in the center of the building. The southern exterior wall of the 1936 building and the west wall of the 1948 addition are now interior spaces. Other unique elements of the building were restored and modernized, such as wooden railings and single-pane windows. An additional pane was installed behind the original, green-trimmed glass in the historic windows to create much needed insulation and reinforcement. This, among other improvements, allowed the building to achieve an energy use intensity (EUI) that is 60% less than a typical baseline university classroom building.
Classrooms are concentrated in the newly constructed areas, while services, offices, and computational space are placed in the historic structure, adding synergy between departments, students and teachers. The new and improved offices, classrooms and lobby areas are bright, spacious and welcoming to students. Equipped with modern technology and furnishings, the spaces create a more practical and collaborative environment for learning that will serve generations of students to come.
Tucson Convention Center (TCC)
ENR Southwest Award of Merit in Renovation category
The Tucson Convention Center Capital Improvements & Parking Structure was a $65 million project in downtown Tucson, completed in partnership with Concord General Contracting. The north walkway, central plaza, and upper plaza of the convention center are all registered Historic Landscapes, so a key consideration of this project was preserving the historic elements of the convention center while minimizing impact to existing neighbors and the natural environment.
The TCC’s historic landscape also includes intricate outdoor fountains inspired by local attraction Sabino Canyon. For the renovation of this landscape, the team brought in multiple community participants — from the individual participant with interest, to the well-established historical groups — into each aspect of the project. This enabled collaboration and compromise, ensuring the plaza was restored historically and within the intentions, budget and operational requirements of the project.
Before renovation, the fountains sat empty for over a decade, but Sundt was able to restore them to their original 1970s construction and get them flowing again using reclaimed water. All brick work was salvaged from the original area and relayed with better subbase to ensure the hardscape areas would last longer. The fountains also had the original blue quartz salvaged and relayed to ensure the original materials were used in its restoration.
The team also made facility improvements to the Leo Rich Theatre and Tucson Music Hall, renovated the main ballroom and south exhibition hall in the main area of the convention center, added 32,000 square feet of new meeting room space, updated restrooms and paved new surface lots. One of the most notable changes, however, was the addition of two new parking structures that added close to 1,000 parking spaces.
Through careful planning and construction, Sundt ensured the history of this community hub was preserved, while also creating a modern space where Tucsonans and visitors alike can enjoy live music, trade shows, conventions and more.