Amtrak CUS Great Hall work under way

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Amtrak’s $22 million project to restore and improve historic Chicago Union Station’s Great Hall is under way. The year-long project will result in a public space painted in its original colors, and made brighter by a restored and protected skylight with improved lighting.

Architect Goettsch Partners (GP) and contractor Berglund Construction designed the project, which Amtrak has self-funded. Amtrak says it has been structured to minimize disruption to the flow of people through the station, the fourth-busiest in Amtrak’s national network (after Penn Station New York, Union Station Washington D.C., and 30th Street Station Philadelphia). The construction team “devised a creative solution to maintain access to the Great Hall by using a suspended working deck and swing stages, in lieu of much scaffolding, to allow customers to move freely below,” Amtrak notes.

A crane erected on Clinton Street is being used to move materials through the building and above the Great Hall. The painting and plaster repairs have been divided into phases, “to further provide full customer access to the Great Hall during the repairs.”

The Great Hall at Chicago Union Station, completed in 1925, was designed by Daniel Burnham and successor firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. The centerpiece of the Great Hall is its 219-foot-long skylight that soars 115 feet above the floor. “Over the decades, it has deteriorated due to water damage and flaws within the original design,” Amtrak says.

GP, Klein & Hoffman and Environmental Systems Design completed an extensive investigation of the space within the Great Hall to determine the extent of repairs needed while respecting the building’s historic nature. The investigation concluded the original barrel-vaulted skylight was not designed to adequately keep water out and no longer met current codes, so an extensive upgrade was necessary.

To maintain the skylight’s historic appearance from within the Great Hall and overcome the complications of the existing drainage system, Berglund Construction will build a modern, energy-efficient skylight above the historic skylight. The new skylight will protect the historic skylight with a new drainage design and maintenance system. When finished, natural light into the Great Hall is expected to increase by about 50% by replacing the 2,052 pieces of framed glass in the historic skylight that had been made bigger over the years in an unsuccessful effort to prevent leaks. The panes will be transparent, rather than the original wire-embedded glass. The new skylight will have 858 panes of clear, high-efficiency glass, five feet above the historic skylight.

“While the work is performed, customers will notice less light in the Great Hall because of the suspended deck and scaffolding erected in the areas around the room, including the balconies, grand staircases and the passage between the Great Hall and the Station Concourse,” Amtrak says. However, “once the [new] skylight and roof work has been completed, ensuring that the Great Hall will remain dry, the historic skylight, along with water-damaged plaster and stone, will be restored. The finishes will include the return of the historic paint colors to the walls and ceiling.”

Berglund Construction will work with ACE Mentor Chicago, which has a 14-year partnership with Chicago public high schools and a special focus on recruiting minority and female students, “groups significantly under-represented in the construction and design industry and in professional occupations overall,” Amtrak notes.

The plan, approved by local and state historic preservation agencies, is to complete the project by late 2018. A video describing the project is embedded in this story. A gallery of images from the design and early construction phases can be accessed by clicking HERE.

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