Adaptive reuse can be one way towards sustainability and conservation. Once a K-Mart complex in Rio Grande, New Jersey, BKP Architects collaborating with Cape May County officials, repurposed the vacant 180,000 GLA space into a mixed-use development that includes — a Veteran’s Administration (VA) Community Based Outpatient Clinic, NJ State Offices, Cape May County Offices, retail restaurants with outdoor dining, Bowling Alley, Movie Theatres, etc.
Originally a big box retail complex —single-storied slab-on-grade, with masonry exterior walls, steel columns and beams, steel joists, and steel deck —the building was deconstructed into a vibrant mixed-use County Commons. A great design exercise in space planning, retaining the existing building systems and fusing the two with creativity, County Commons adds to the vibrancy of its neighborhood.
With parking on all sides of the site, and not every tenant having a storefront, BKP demised the 140 feet deep building to create tenant frontage on each side of the building and created two green open-air courtyards highly improving the amount of natural light and view even for spaces deep within the complex. The use of a large-format terracotta rainscreen revitalized the façade and the existing structural system allowed for the creation of a continuous column-free canopy on the south side of the building.
The courtyard mentioned above is the favorite part of the design for one of the end users Donna Groome, Department Head of the Cape May County Department of Human Services, who uses it all year round — for blooming flowers and trees in the spring and summer and for harvest decorations in the fall and for twinkle lights and snowmen in winter — more importantly, for how the space adds value to their day-to-day routine.
“Even the nuisance of a foot of snow looks beautiful in the atrium,” Groome said. ‘This area brings a tremendous amount of natural light, nature, and energy to the building (and by design the units adjacent to it).”
“This is the space that holds the most positive energy in the building. Due to the nature of our operations we can be very siloed and this space creates the area that brings the employees together (as much as possible in a pandemic) in the morning prior to going into their units/division, at lunch, while walking through the building, etc. It truly is the “heart” of the building. It is an absolute pleasure to be able to gather in such a beautiful space,” she added.
Groome, who has been working in the old location for approximately 18 years rightly points out the Human Services footprint of County Commons was designed pre-COVID. However, the design of the unit/division work spaces meet the guidelines for social distancing barriers. This speaks to not only the increased space, but the overall design. Staff was/is able to safely maintain social distancing when working within their individual workspaces, she said.
“All divisions of the Department of Human Services provide or assists in facilitating vital public benefits and services to the residents of Cape May County. It is imperative that they remain on the job.
Another large difference between the old office and the new spaces is the front reception design. The previous building’s front reception design was problematic for employees, Groome explained that safety was a concern as staff had to move through the waiting area to access the reception and/or interview areas. The new design allows for total protection of the staff behind locked doors and glass and wood partitions, while still being able to effectively interact and communicate with consumers. While in-person interactions have been minimal due to the pandemic, this design is exactly what the employees were requesting.
The new VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic is a crucial highlight of the project. For security purposes, it is provided with an independent entrance and includes exam rooms, staff workstations, rooms for specialty services, locked storage space for medical supplies, etc. The VA clinic is designed to meet LEED ID+C standards.
Cape May County
Images © Jeffrey Totaro