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Tour de Moss

By Rich Stebbins

Erin Holcombe
Erin Holcombe (right), Region 8 Project Manager, led a tour for Commercial Real Estate Women at the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse during a renovation project.

A 2-year project manager for Region 8 based in Salt Lake City, with a zeal for finding the personal story within the projects she is part of, is a rarity in the design and construction field.

Holcombe is a licensed architect with the American Institute of Architects and is also a LEED Accredited Professional. There are more than 152 thousand architects across the nation and less than a quarter are women.

Holcombe’s latest passion is the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse renovation project in Salt Lake City. She invited two special groups to take a tour of the building as the project transitions from demolition and abatement into construction.

The first group to tour was a group known as Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW, a national organization for women with a chapter in Salt Lake City.  The focus of this group’s tour was to look at space utilization, working within the historical context of the building and creating space tailored to tenants.

“It is important to showcase how we as GSA utilize historic buildings to create new and modern office environments,” said Holcombe. “Additionally, showing the seamless integration of sustainable design into an existing building is of great interest to the real estate community.” 

This outreach supports women in design, construction and the real estate industry, jobs where women are typically underrepresented. Only roughly 36 percent of commercial real estate brokers are women, in construction it is less than 11 percent. Inviting CREW was a way to show the involvement of women that are critical to the project - impacting and participating at all levels of design and management. 

Long view of Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse tour by Erin Holcombe (far center)
Long view of Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse tour by Erin Holcombe (far center), Region 8 project manager, to the Commercial Real Estate Women in Salt Lake City on April 11, 2013.

Amy Gilbertson, historic architect from the Trivers architecture firm working on the Moss project, helped set up another tour with a group from the local historic preservation community.  The historic preservation stakeholders have been integral to the project from the start, where they consulted and advised in the Department of the Interior's Section 106 process. Providing this group the opportunity to see the progress of the project was important to show the sensitivity in handling with the historic components while modernizing the building.

“I think these tours show that the project is not just for the federal government, but impacts the Salt Lake City community, both from a historic perspective and from a design perspective. This shows that we are reaching out to share this beautiful building, its beautiful history and its beautiful future,” said Holcombe. 

Both groups witnessed the significant undertaking of installing new seismic foundations and shear walls in the basement. As they moved up through the building they were also able to view the delicate, temporary removal of the birdseye marble in the lobby and the 118-year-old wood finishes in the 2-story courtroom in order for the new structure to be discreetly inserted prior to reinstalling the original finishes as if the intervention never occurred.  

Gilbertson and Holcombe were able to emphasize the potential of what the redesign can be and how the new design is being implemented with the historic elements and corridors while creating more usable and friendly spaces.

Throughout the demolition process, building elements that are over 100 years old are being discovered behind walls from previous renovations and expansions. Carved sandstone fluting and bands have been found in sections of the exterior facade that date back to the original construction. Holcombe even has a collection of "artifacts" that have been discovered throughout the demolition. The collection consists of everything from newspaper clippings and candy wrappers to postal collection signage dating as far back as 1905.

“We continue to find original building elements that were covered up in previous building renovations. For example, uncovered sections of the 1905 exterior facade that were covered in the 1912 and 1932 expansions.” said Holcombe. “We are looking for ways to highlight these elements in the new construction.”

A short presentation was given prior to the tour that not only focused on the history of the building but also highlighted the massive seismic upgrade within the historic building all while integrating sustainable design practices.