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Education  December 3, 2010

Historic concerns over Engines Lab expansion

FORT COLLINS – Historic preservation concerns won’t likely deter a plan to expand the Colorado State University Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory on North College Avenue.

Conceptual plans to expand the city’s old power plant – built in 1936 and converted into the Engines Lab in 1992 – originally included a four-story, 50,000-square-foot attached building that would sit slightly in front of the facility on its southwest side.

Those plans also called for a 20-foot by 20-foot Art Deco fountain to be moved to accommodate the expansion. The fountain is part of the Fort Collins Landmark designation granted to the property in 1987.

Karen McWilliams, historic preservation planner for the city of Fort Collins, said CSU officials and design representatives attended a meeting of the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission to make an informal presentation on the expansion.

McWilliams said commission members are supportive of the reuse of the historic power plant but were concerned that the expansion would partially block the view of the structure from College Avenue.

McWilliams said the commission proposed moving the planned expansion back to the east so the view would not be impaired.

“The main idea is we want to preserve the historic character of the designated landmark property as much as possible,” she said.

The commission also had a concern with the plan to move the historic terra cotta fountain The fountain was sculpted in 1934 by the Works Progress Administration and originally planned for a location in Denver’s City Park. It was rejected by the Denver Art Board and eventually found a home at the Fort Collins power plant.

McWilliams said the 76-year-old, gargoyle-festooned fountain could be relocated but should not be moved without justification.

“Obviously, it can be moved if that’s what it takes to accommodate the best design,” she said. “But to move it without justification would not meet the standards we have to meet.”

Terrence Hoagland, Landmark Preservation Commission chair, said the commission is waiting to hear back from the Engines Lab.

“They heard our concerns and hopefully they’ll come back with some changes,” he said.

Back in operation

Bruce Hendee, owner of BHA Design in Fort Collins, is working with the Engines Lab on the expansion project. Hendee, who attended the Landmark Preservation Commission meeting with Engines Lab Director Bryan Willson, said the original conceptual plan called for building the expansion directly east but that would have placed it well within a 200-foot buffer area between the facility and the Poudre River immediately to the north.

Hendee said building the expansion on the south side of the Engines Lab would require moving the fountain to a location more directly in front of the building’s west side.

“We said we’d renovate it and put it in operating order again and make it more visible, and the LPC said they’d consider that,” he said.

Willson, director of the lab since 1992, said preserving the fountain’s historic significance has always been a factor in planning the expansion.

“We’ve always known that the fountain was an important feature and had historic significance to it,” he said. “That was why we wanted to put the (expansion) building on the north side, but that meant putting the building in the river corridor.”

Willson said moving the fountain could be a good thing.

“It really needs to be dismantled and go through a major refurbishment,” he said. “By moving it to the front of the building, it becomes more visible.”

Willson said the fountain could also provide a learning project to power it with solar energy.

“That’s the kind of thing we’re looking at to preserve its historic character but at the same time add a new energy source to power it,” he said.

New building will blend

Willson also noted that plans still being developed for the expansion include making the addition blend as much as possible with the 1936-built power plant without trying to fool the public into thinking it is part of the original structure.

“You could mimic the current façade exactly, but we were actually warned against doing that,” he said.

McWilliams said despite the commission’s concerns about the expansion project, members are strongly supportive of the old power plant’s reuse as a state-of-the-art energy and mechanical engineering laboratory.

“The commission thinks it’s a phenomenal program that’s helping the rest of the world,” she said.

Since 1992, CSU engineering students have put their classroom instruction into hands-on experiences at the facility, creating innovative products to help solve global energy problems.

Those products have included cleaner-burning two-stroke engines and home cookstoves for the developing world, where energy resources can be scarce and pollution high from inefficient stoves and engines.

The LPC can’t veto a development proposal at an historic site but instead makes a recommendation to the Fort Collins City Council, which has the last word on any development project submittal.

“They don’t have veto power, but our goal is to look for a solution that works,” Willson said. “I think we’ve taken their comments very strongly to heart.”

Willson said he anticipates taking a firm plan for the expansion project back to the LPC in three to four months. He said the project’s timetable includes final approval from the city by early summer 2011 and construction completed by late summer 2012.

FORT COLLINS – Historic preservation concerns won’t likely deter a plan to expand the Colorado State University Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory on North College Avenue.

Conceptual plans to expand the city’s old power plant – built in 1936 and converted into the Engines Lab in 1992 – originally included a four-story, 50,000-square-foot attached building that would sit slightly in front of the facility on its southwest side.

Those plans also called for a 20-foot by 20-foot Art Deco fountain to be moved to accommodate the expansion. The fountain is part of the Fort Collins Landmark designation granted to…

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