City Yard Renovation is Design Conscious

Santa Monica city workers receive new building and equipment.

By Aurielle Weiss 

The Santa Monica City Yards have been around since the second World War. Since then, the property has been used as a base for the city’s maintenance operations, storage facilities and other industrial uses. The main goal of this renovation was to give city workers a better working environment with modern buildings and equipment providing protected circulation as the facility was no longer able to provide the quality conditions workers need. 

This is a design-build project led by the architectural team The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP and Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction company, their first collaboration.

To use industrial materials in a design conscious way, they used concrete masonry units for parts of all of the buildings. Many of those CMU’s are a special kind, precision and ground face rather than industrial. 

“ The main goal of this renovation was to give city workers a better working environment with modern buildings and equipment.”

The Fleet Building, a large industrial building with several service spaces, is a hybrid solution of steel structure and steel deck. It has steel insulated panels on side and CMU structures working together. 

Design of all gender locker rooms and shower facilities in the Fleet building and the Admin building were added, as well as coordination of specialized equipment in the Fleet building to service large vehicles.

Sustainably Designed

Sustainability and energy efficiency is a top priority for the design team. This project achieved net zero energy, water neutrality (less potable use than 5-year historical average on site), net zero use of non potable water for non potable uses, Envision certification for infrastructure sustainability, CORE certification and microgrid. 

There were several meetings with community groups to inform the locals of the planned changes, allowing the community members the possibility to voice their concerns and contribute to the design of the master plan.

Inspired by the structure of a zipper, the design concept knits together and integrates the new City Yards with the surrounding arts district neighborhood along Michigan Avenue in a way that is economical, functional, educational and symbolic of the city’s commitment to environmentally responsible development.

The project is ‘microgrid ready’ and designed to both be independent of the grid in the event of a power outage, and to provide excess power to the grid.

Meeting The Challenges

One of the biggest structural challenges this project faced was providing safe pedestrian circulation across a large site, heavily trafficked by large vehicles. The team provided a user and public-friendly front to the project so observers could view their process. 

They had to provide visibility into the site for the general public, and at the same time prevent any physical public access to most of the site. A series of courtyards along Michigan render the north perimeter of the site visually permeable and provide a secure work environment.

In addition, this project is built over a landfill and required that the Fleet building be supported by deep concrete piles. Building foundations were also designed to prevent methane gas from entering the buildings and methane monitoring systems are provided in the building interiors. Foam infill was used in lieu of pea gravel in trenches above the methane barrier to prevent the methane barrier from pulling away from the building. 

Underground utilities were placed on hangers to prevent settlement along with the landfill +/- 12” in 20 years and flex connectors are used for site utilities when transitioning from landfill to native.

The master plan covered the whole 15-acre site and replaced all of the existing building and infrastructure with new buildings. The design was meant to be completed as packages A, B, and C. 

Package A included six buildings, but budget cuts due to Covid halted four of the six. Miller Hull proceeded with the other two buildings, so that if funding comes back for the four buildings they can be built without having to undo previous work. 

Mitigation of stormwater was a challenge on this site where infiltration is not possible.  A rainwater capture, treatment and reuse system which was part of the original design, was replaced by delivery from the City SMURRF facility to the site of Title 22 recycled water for use for vehicle washing, toilet flushing and irrigation.

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