A campus center in Denver gets new life
through a complex interior and exterior renovation
Renovation of the Tivoli Student
Center on Denver's Auraria Campus completes this month after
five years of work in the middle of a busy college campus.
Revitalizing a 130-year old
building means being prepared for surprises around every corner
- and that's not including the ghosts who supposedly roam
the labyrinths of Denver's landmark Tivoli Building.
| Photo by, David Patterson
"In terms of complexity, this project [the Tivoli Student
Union Revitalization] was about as difficult as it gets,"
said Roger Treichler Jr., project manager for Gerald H. Phipps
Inc., the project's general contractor. "You've got a
million little buildings and tunnels cobbled together with
no drawings, walls put up during remodels that nobody knows
what's behind them - all kinds of entertaining stuff like
that. It was a fun place to work."
The Tivoli Student Union is the 16-building, 324,100-sq-ft
landmark that anchors the Auraria Higher Education Center
just west of downtown Denver. The campus is home to more than
36,000 students from three institutions, including the Community
College of Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver and
the University of Colorado at Denver. The $20 million, five-year
revitalization of the Tivoli will be complete this month.
Originally a brewery, the Tivoli's earliest buildings were
constructed in 1877. Additions continued until final completion
of the complex in 1984. Historic buildings contained within
the complex, roughly in their order of construction, are the
Tavern, Turnhalle, Tivoli Tower, Hops Storage, Boiler Room,
Power House, Keg House, Fermentation Building, Storage Building,
Bottling House, Warehouse, and Storage Garage.
The Tivoli-Union Brewery complex was an active brewery from
1870 to 1969. The buildings were vacant from 1969 until ownership
was transferred to the Denver Urban Renewal Authority in 1984
and subsequently to AHEC. The Hahn Co., a private developer,
converted the complex into a public shopping mall in 1984.
The Tivoli-Union Brewery was listed as a Denver Local Landmark
on Aug. 17, 1972, and on the National Register of Historic
Places on April 11, 1973.
In 1991, Auraria students voted to buy the building back
and redevelop the Tivoli as a student union and retail center.
The complex reopened in 1994 after a $7 million interior renovation.
The Tivoli Student union is home to a food court, conference
facilities, event halls and offices for student organizations.
"Students have a real sense of stewardship about this
building," said Barb Weiske, director of student auxiliary
services for AHEC. "After buying the building back, they
decided to take the next step and raise their fees in order
to take care of the building. It's such a treasure for the
campus and Denver and they wanted it to be able to stand the
test of time."
But by all accounts, the Tivoli had begun to look shabby.
The buildings' roofs had reached the end of their lives, the
paint was peeling, the masonry was crumbling and the windows
needed to be repaired.
So Auraria students voted to raise their fees to fund bonds
for the $28 million project. Of that amount, $20 million was
the original construction budget.
"What we heard from the students was that this wasn't
a renovation to add more space or to just fix the building,"
said Gary Petri, principal-in-charge of the Tivoli Project
for Denver's SlaterPaull Architects. "This building represents
pride in student life for the whole campus - it's the students'
home away from home, and they wanted it to have a more energetic
Adding to the challenge of remodeling the Tivoli was the
fact that students were using their "home away from home"
during the construction.
"We didn't have the luxury of taking a major function
and moving it from one place to another," Weiske said.
"We were fully occupied in every sense of the phrase."
As many as 100,000 visitors a week pass through the main
entrance of the Tivoli, according to counts done before the
construction, so occupation of the building called for creative
problem solving on the part of SlaterPaull, Phipps and the
subcontractors. For example, scaffolding was erected over
the coffee shop so that workers would have access to the ceiling
above without disrupting the business.
"The students understood that the building was having
work done and were very tolerant, but we also have one-time
users, like those who use our halls for special events, who
we had to accommodate," Weiske said. "Then there
were times we had to shore up windows and make them look good
for wedding photos even though they were in the middle of
A Moving target
Revitalization of virtually all areas inside and out - including
several tenant remodels - combined with more than 700 change
requests and the constant mix of student center activities
made scheduling and coordination critically important. In
addition, the Phipps team had to deal with the adjacent construction
of a multi-story parking facility and preparations for the
2005 Denver Grand Prix. The fluid nature of the project called
for weekly coordination meetings and workflow that could be
characterized as "scheduling on the go."
"We probably could have had the building done in half
the time if it hadn't been occupied during construction,"
said Joyce Carnes of Jacobs Facilities Inc., the owner's project
manager. "But under the circumstances, the contractor
did an excellent job of planning, scheduling and communicating
so that we got the work done as quickly as possible."
Bill Stott, the project supervisor for Phipps, handled coordination
of the up to 100 workers who would be on jobsite both day
and night. "It's like conducting a symphony," he
said. "People have to come in and do their part in [the
right] order before the next person can come in."
Because the student center was filled with students and visitors
from 6 a.m. until late at night, much of the work at the Tivoli
was done at night. Many workers reported hearing voices or
having an eerie feeling in the older parts of the building,
which is rumored to be haunted.
"At least I didn't have to work around the ghost's schedule,"
Stott joked. "The one I heard about is a girl, so she
didn't bother the guys much."
Far scarier for the Phipps team were safety concerns on a
site that had thousands of students passing under or by the
building's substantial scaffolding every day. Plenty of signage,
barricades, cones and warning tapes were employed to keep
people aware of hazards and away from danger. Scaffold training,
100 percent tie-off, regular safety meetings and onsite reviews
produced the desired results - no injuries to students, visitors
or workers and no lost-time due to accidents. The only incident,
in which a paint gun being cleaned inadvertently sprayed over
a fence, was remedied by purchasing a new shirt for the security
officer who was sprayed.
The revitalization of the Tivoli can be broken down into
two areas - inside and out.
The most visible transformation during the Tivoli project
was the building's change from the white paint it had worn
since the 1940s to the warm hues of the natural brick underneath.
"The original plan was to remove the paint, repair the
brick and repaint," Weiske said. "In the end, it
was better for the brick and more attractive to leave it uncovered,
but there was a lot of angst about changing from the white
everyone had always known."
The dramatic change involved tedious, brick-by-brick renovation.
"Everyone's breath was taken away when we discovered
what was under that paint," Weiske said. "There
are different shades of brick, but they go well together and
they highlight the history of the different buildings that
make up the Tivoli."
The change in the building's exterior involved a forensic
architect, materials testing, complex paint removal, mortar
repair, brick replacement and a brick-finish artist. The exterior
of the Tivoli consisted of at least 12 different construction
periods. The design challenge faced was the removal of multiple
layers of paint from 12 different types of bricks, stone and
mortar compositions. The first step was testing 12 different
brick surfaces to determine the number of paint coatings,
types of brick, deterioration, mortar damage and other factors.
"We wanted to do some of the leg work so the contractor
would at least know what they were getting into before they
bid the project," Petri said.
John Bosio of Restoration Specialists took on the job. Before
work could begin, scaffolding was custom designed and erected
on a wall-by-wall basis, including movable scaffolds that
maintained tenant views and a circular configuration around
the smokestack. Once the paint was removed, using one of three
paint removers depending on the type of brick, contractors
got a close look at what they were dealing with.
"We were literally evaluating each individual brick,"
he said. "We stripped 80,000 sq ft of surface area and
then set about matching not only the color and texture of
the bricks, but also their size."
In order to create the uniform façade visitors to
the Tivoli now enjoy, Bosio and his team used four types of
mortar and seven types of brick. Some bricks were "flipped"
to display their best side; some were reusable and some had
to be replaced. In the cases where a brick of similar color
couldn't be found, bricks were individually stained, a process
known as "brick imaging."
"We literally had the architect up to say which bricks
stayed and which needed to be replaced," Bosio said.
Bosio and his team completed a punch list for every elevation
of the project.
The mortar that held the bricks together also posed a restoration
challenge. The meticulous mortar "repointing" process
used Dremel tools to remove mortar where necessary to a depth
of up to an inch.
"It varied greatly," Bosio said. "Some of
the mortar had to be ground out, and other times it was crumbling
so badly we could just blow it out."
Other exterior work included replacing many of the wood windows
in the buildings with aluminum-clad wood windows. The detail,
trim and mouldings for each new window were made to exactly
match the profile of existing windows and replicate the Tivoli's
historic character. Often, side-by-side windows had different
dimensions and had to be accurately replicated in order to
fit the available space in the brick walls. In addition, all
rolled steel windows throughout the complex were repaired
Because leaking roofs were causing considerable interior
damage to the Tivoli, 19 separate low-sloped roofs on all
buildings were replaced as part of the revitalization. This
work had to be accomplished without interfering with activities
and operations in occupied spaces below. In addition, 15 new
rooftop HVAC units had to be installed before removing old
units to keep mechanical systems in operation throughout construction.
Another exterior challenge was the design and replacement
of exterior lighting. Fixture types were selected to complement
the historic character and scale of the building. The design
improved energy efficiency and safety while highlighting key
architectural features, including illuminating the building's
The most complicated phase of the interior work was the installation
of completely new mechanical, electrical and addressable fire
alarm systems as well as substantial remodeling and tenant
renovations. Twenty-eight school departments, 22 private businesses,
19 separate conference/event facilities, eight study lounges
and two computer labs remained in full operation throughout
"A true retrofit is something we don't do real often,"
said Brian Taylor of U.S. Engineering, the mechanical contractor
on the project. "It's a real challenge to bring the new
system online while still maintaining the old one."
The new HVAC system, featuring energy-efficient equipment,
new roof-mounted air handling units and a new central plant/cooling
tower, replaced an old system that used 160 separate heat
"The old system just wasn't appropriate for the current
use of the building," Weiske said. "Our cost analysis
showed that we will recoup the initial expenditure on the
new system in 10 to 12 years and begin to recognize a savings
on our heating costs."
Many of the logical locations to run piping, ductwork and
locate units were already taken. Extensive field analysis
was done to determine the appropriate routing, both to serve
the building as the design intended and to minimally impact
"This job was the farthest thing from normal you can
imagine," said Nick Cheshire, project superintendent
for U.S. Engineering. "You'd get into a ceiling, find
all kinds of stuff just abandoned in there and then there
would be another ceiling with even more abandoned systems."
Cheshire said his longest drill, which is three-ft long,
was no match for the Tivoli's older walls.
"I'm used to new construction, where you have to go
through four-in.-thick drywall," he said. "Here
you have to go through four ft of brick."
While most of the "surprises" during the course
of the Tivoli revitalization brought challenges, there was
also unexpected good news.
Because the project was under budget and the bonds earned
more interest that expected, the owners were able to add several
"wish-list" items to the project.
"These are items that weren't part of the original scope
of the project, items we wanted but didn't think we would
be able to do," Carnes said.
Added project areas include renovation of the bookstore,
the purchase of a new generator for the building and a new
staircase in the Turnhalle.
The added scope brought the construction budget up to $22.3
million, Carnes said.
There still might be money to add a loading dock to the building
and turn the east side of the Tivoli into a pedestrian mall.
With or without the two additions, Carnes believes the revitalization
project is a success.
"When we set our objectives for this project, we said
we wanted to increase traffic through the Tivoli," she
said. "I think the coordination and effort this project
required will pay off and we will reach that objective. Obviously,
our objective to improve the appearance of the building has
already been realized."
||Auraria Higher Education
||BCER Engineers Inc.,
Insite Design, J.R. Harris and Associates, JVA Consulting
Engineers, Rider Hunt & Levitt, Rolf Jensen, SR +
dK Consulting, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates
||Gerald H. Phipps Inc.
Metropolitan Glass Inc., Ken Caryl Glass Inc., Colorado
Doorways Inc., Superior Roofing Inc., Denver Commercial
Coatings, Materials Handling Equipment Co., JK Concepts
Inc., Restoration Specialists Inc., Intermountain Electric
Inc., Interstate Electrical Contractors Inc., US Engineering
Co., Dalco Industries Inc., Dan Berich Inc., Colorado
Sash & Door Inc.
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