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Alaska District breathes new life into 1940’s-era headquarters building

USACE Alaska District
Published July 17, 2020
Updated: July 17, 2020
Workers completed the front of the Alaska District’s headquarters at the end of June.

Workers completed the front of the Alaska District’s headquarters at the end of June. The first exterior update since the late 1970’s features an “adaptive shade” for the main color, a “creamy” trim around the windows, an “enduring bronze” around the main entrance and “positive red” for signage.

Safety fencing went up around the Alaska District headquarters building in preparation for a new paint color at the end of May.

Safety fencing went up around the Alaska District headquarters building in preparation for a new paint color at the end of May. The project delivery team reviewed old photographs to determine that the district last updated the exterior of building in 1979 when it added steel siding.

A worker tapes off equipment in preparation for painting the northeast side of the building.

A worker tapes off equipment in preparation for painting the northeast side of the building. The crew fixed damaged areas of the building prior to painting by hammering out dents or replacing sections with unfixable damage.

The team looked at old photos to determine past paint colors like this one taken in the late 1960s.

The team looked at old photos to determine past paint colors like this one taken in the late 1960s. This information allowed them to make decisions about colors that would best represent the building’s history.

Equipment sits near the building as workers prepare the northeast side for primer and paint.

Equipment sits near the building as workers prepare the northeast side for primer and paint. The crew advanced counterclockwise around the building, finishing the work in sections as the new colors became visible to the district.

Midway through work on the exterior of the headquarters building, painters applied primer to the left side.

Midway through work on the exterior of the headquarters building, painters applied primer to the left side. The crew completed the project in sections.

In 1979, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District added 37,800 square feet of dark brown, steel siding and trim to its headquarters and laboratory buildings located on what is now known as Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Since then, the organization has grown to more than 400 employees and implemented projects across Alaska and the Indo-Pacific Region. But, during nearly half of the district’s history, the exterior of the facility stayed the same color, weathering storms and harsh Alaskan winters each year.

At the time, designers believed the siding would last more than 20 years. About 40 years later, time is revealing the wear and tear in the form of noticeable repair patches and multiple shades of paint visible on the exterior. District leadership determined that the building needed a fresh coat of paint. However, for the team tasked with the mission, it was not as easy as going to a hardware store to pick up the necessary supplies and materials.

Built to house the newly formed Alaska District, employees moved in on Nov. 15, 1947, while workers continued to lay tiles on the floor. Since then, the Army moved to present day Fort Richardson and the Air Force acquired the land as part of Elmendorf Air Force Base. Meanwhile, the Corps retained ownership of the building and kept it as the district headquarters.

“Many of the Corps’ districts lease their buildings,” said William Egeberg, facilities manager for the Alaska District. “Alaska is one of the unique districts that owns their headquarters, so the logistics team takes care of maintenance internally, including the opportunity to make decisions about the appearance of the building.”

Qualifying as a historic structure due to its age, history and architecture, any changes to the exterior needed coordination with the State Historic Preservation Office and installation officials.

The district formed a project delivery team comprised of a project manager, architect and logistics representatives to make sure the new color adhered to historical regulations pertaining to the building, and that the paint would stick to the steel siding.

Working together to determine former paint colors, the team scoured through old photos of the building where the paint could clearly be seen. Prior to the addition of steel siding, it found the building existed in white; white with blue-gray accents; and light brown with dark brown on the bottom level and around an orange door.

“Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s cultural resource manager helped us with the history of the building and we found photos in our archives,” said Heather Markway, project manager for the Alaska District. “We also reached out to one of the longest serving district members, who had old files of building specs to learn about the exterior of the annex.”

Group members considered the general maintenance of the chosen color alongside its history. If they selected a light option like the original white, regular maintenance activities like lawn mowing would quickly show on the building, adding the need for regular cleaning to preserve the appearance. If they picked too dark of a color, then minor damage that comes from normal wear and tear will be more visible.

“We wanted to ensure that the color not only looks good initially, but that it stands the test of time with maintenance work and winter weather in the coming years,” Egeberg said.

Taking into account these considerations, the team decided on colors that paid homage to the building’s historic roots, but also allowed maintenance to be kept at a reasonable level. The group selected the colors “adaptive shade,” which is a medium brown for the main color; a “creamy” trim around the windows; an “enduring bronze” around the main entrance; and “positive red” for signage.

After receiving all necessary approvals for the selection, the team acquired a contract to powerwash, repair, prime and paint during the summer of 2020. At the end of May, safety fencing was installed to allow the crew to start working in sections to paint the main building. Workers started in the back of the facility and advanced their way counterclockwise, completing the job in sections.

“Repairs to the building were a large feature of painting the facility,” Markway said. “When walking the building with the team, we noted damage to the siding from maintenance work and trucks that had backed into the loading dock.”

The crew fixed siding that was bent or torn by cutting out and replacing the worst sections. Sections with lesser damage were fixed by hammering the steel back into shape.

By the last days of June, the front of the building was finished with the new “positive red” letters spelling out the Alaska District’s name.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the painting project has progressed smoothly. Yet few employees have observed the undertaking firsthand since the majority of the workforce is in telework status to reduce the spread of the disease. 

“As a project manager, it is typical to not physically see a project during construction, so this was no different,” Markway said. “But seeing photos of the change makes me that much more excited to eventually come back from teleworking to see it in person.”

As the paint dries and ages over the next year, it will subtly change to its permanent color while it weathers the Alaskan elements.

In the coming months, the completion of this project will bring the luster back to a historic building that continues to house the district workforce for decades to come.