Capitol improvements

ISBA’s $1.8 million renovation job capitalizes on Springfield site

ISBA’s $1.8 million renovation job capitalizes on Springfield site - Photo by Randy Squires
April 2017
By Sarah Mansur
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

The Illinois State Bar Association in Springfield is the only association with a building located in the state Capitol complex.

Not wanting to move and lose its prime location was a major motivation for the recent renovations to the ISBA headquarters, known as the Illinois Bar Center, said Dennis Archer, the association’s assistant executive director for administration and finance.

“There couldn’t be a more strategic location for us,” Archer said. “When our members come to Springfield now, we are expecting them to stop by so I think that is what we really got out of it. It kind of opens up another meeting place for our members.”

He said, in the past, the association has invested more money in the Chicago regional office, which has become a popular spot for members to congregate.

“It was time for us to bring this up to the level that the CRO is,” he said.

ADA improvements

In addition to making the site more appealing to members with a new lounge, the renovations also involved practical upgrades that would make the building more accessible to those with disabilities.

Upgrading the building to comply with the Americans with Disability Act guidelines was another component in the renovations, Archer said.

“Even though we had an elevator, we couldn’t get people to all the levels they needed to be,” Archer said. “And to be able to open our building up to the public, to our members and to staff, we really needed to do that.”

He said the renovations, which totaled $1.8 million, also included installing three new chairlifts, disability-accessible bathrooms, a new roof and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

FWAI Architects Inc. in Springfield performed the renovation design work. Actual construction was performed by Halverson Construction, also in Springfield, and GHR Engineers & Associates in Champaign performed the engineering work.

The renovation began last May and is expected to be completed at the end of the month, Archer said.

Open and accessible

The main impetus for the remodeling was to increase the building’s accessibility and openness, said Cynthia Petheram, of FWAI Architects.

“It’s such an interesting building, and it really did dictate what you could and couldn’t do to it because it’s very rigidly symmetrical,” she said.

The building was originally designed by Walter Netsch and has had few renovations since it was completed in 1966.

Netsch, of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, led the team which designed the University of Illinois-Chicago campus as well as designed the libraries at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University and the east wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Netsch used simple materials on the bar center’s exterior, which included sandblasted concrete and limestone, and on the interior, which included plaster and rosewood. In a 1968 article for Office Design, Netsch said the use of simple materials contributed to a design that “attempted to maintain the quiet order of the building.”

Donald Powell — Netsch’s colleague at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — said the burgundy red carpet was chosen for its “psychological identification with law books,” according a 1968 article in Interiors Magazine.

Petheram said she tried to keep the original color scheme, materials and layout.

“We didn’t want it to look like all of a sudden 2016 intruded into the building,” she said. “Mostly, we were trying to stay true to the original intent of the architectural design.”

Brightening the boardroom

Petheram said one of the most notable changes in the building is the boardroom.

“It used to be very dark and closed in,” Petheram said.

Before the renovations, the boardroom had a small white door on one end and heavy rosewood double doors on the other. Now, both entrances of the boardroom are large, glass double doors.

“We took out the rosewood panel [doors] and put in the big glass doors to open it up and make it brighter,” she said

The firm removed a boardroom’s closet and installed cabinetry there, instead. They also redid the boardroom’s lighting and retrofitted the ceiling lights with LED dimmable units.

“The previous canned lights didn’t let out much light,” she said. “The interior [of the canned lights] was black so it was a really dark room even with 24 lights.”

A new main entrance and reception area on the east side of the building is another major change that resulted from the renovations.

Petheram said making the east side the main entrance was the most logical because the parking lot is on that side of the building, and it is the entrance that most people already use.

Also, it would have been difficult to bring the entrance on Second Street into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.

“We would have had to put a 100-foot ramp to get up from the sidewalk,” Petheram said.

The reception area at the former front entrance, facing Second Street, was converted into a member lounge.

“When members come to Springfield they have some place where they can hook up to WiFi, or sit down and read or have coffee,” Petheram said.

She said the rosewood panels in the member lounge were salvaged and refurbished from the rosewood panels in the boardroom.

The firm also remodeled the break room, installed a new burgundy red carpet, upgraded the atrium-area stairs and added new rosewood handrails, among other changes.

Petheram said she wanted to preserve the Illinois Bar Center’s professional atmosphere.

“Nothing here is really casual, if you notice,” she said. “It does reflect the profession, and the gravity of the profession.”