The new owner of Denver’s landmark Emerson School, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, kicked off the property’s $3.2-million sustainable renovation on Oct. 13.

Courtesy of SLATERPAULL Architects
The Emerson School, completed in 1885, is located at 1420 Ogden St. in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

A major part of the project is the geothermal heating and cooling field being installed under the old elementary school’s rear parking lot. Colorado Geothermal Drilling recently started boring thirty 300-ft-deep holes for the geothermal and expects to finish in a week or so.

“We want to demonstrate how to make an older building sustainable,” said Jim Lindberg, director of preservation initiatives for the National Trust’s Mountain/Plains Office in Denver.

The Emerson School, completed in 1885, is located at 1420 Ogden St. in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The building is the oldest surviving school designed by German-born Denver architect Robert Roeschlaub, known for being Colorado’s first licensed architect and designing the Central City Opera House.

The redbrick school includes a 15,207-sq-ft, two-story main building and 4,642-sq-ft rear annex built in 1972 and was most recently a senior center owned by Capitol Hill Senior Resources Inc. The seniors group gave the property to the National Trust in 2010. One of the group’s trustees, who attended the school, also provided a $2-million endowment for future maintenance.
The trust is converting the historic building to office space for itself as well as Colorado Preservation Inc. and Historic Denver Inc., in a renovation spearheaded by Spectrum General Contractors Inc., Denver. The groups expect to move into the building in March.

“We’ll do the same thing with this building for preservation groups that the Alliance Center does for nonprofits,” Lindberg said.
The Alliance Center for Sustainable Colorado, located in the refurbished historic Otero Building at 1536 Wynkoop St., provides space for nonprofit organizations.

The Emerson School annex as well as below-grade “garden space” in the main building will be leased to other tenants for $12 to $16 per sq ft. Existing tenant Howard Dental Center is staying.

SLATERPAULL Architects Inc. of Denver designed the school renovation to LEED-Gold standards and will seek that certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, according to Melanie Short, a SLATERPAULL architect and associate working on the project. “This will be a showcase for historic LEED Gold,” she said.

In addition to the geothermal field, the Emerson School’s other sustainable features include refurbishing and tightening the existing, operable windows and doors; restoring original interior daylighting; and installing high-efficiency lighting and low-flow plumbing fixtures. Existing materials are being reused, and 75% of demolition and construction waste will be recycled.
A front parking lot, facing 14th Street, will be removed to accommodate new landscaping including water-efficient plantings and mature maple shade trees. A B-Cycle bicycle-sharing kiosk will be installed on the site.

Many of the historic school’s architectural embellishments will be preserved, as well, including ash wood wall panels, the grand staircase and 16-ft ceilings in many areas of the two main floors. The National Trust may even keep some of the old blackboards.  

Project Team