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Impetus Wins ENR Texas & Louisiana Project of the Year for The Carrollton, a landmark renovation of a New Orleans Courthouse

The article below was published to ENR Texas & Louisiana | December 11, 2023

Put simply, the Carrollton Courthouse was a mess.

Built in 1855, the two-story Greek Revival landmark of New Orleans’ Carrollton neighborhood evidenced the effects of time, weather and neglect, from deteriorated wooden trusses and masonry to damage from vandalism and animal infestation.

Yet this true diamond in the rough has regained its lost luster as the fully renovated centerpiece of the Carrollton, the city’s newest and most distinctive senior living facility.

Flanked by two newly constructed three-story wings containing more than 90 assisted living and memory care units, the historic 16,500-sq-ft building’s grand interior now provides elegant common spaces for residents and visitors, with an entry lobby, sitting and entertainment areas, formal dining room, cocktail bar and galleries.

Although the Carrollton’s project team was well aware of the challenges associated with renovation projects, it was only after the May 2020 groundbreaking that many of the aged structure’s secrets came to light.

“We knew that the building was dilapidated,” says Alex Stuart, project manager for lead contractor Impetus of New Orleans. “What we didn’t know was the extent of the damage because of the decades of finish work covering the structure.”

Indeed, each step of the planned demolition process seemed to reveal new issues: termite rot, failing wooden structural elements, leak-riddled masonry, damaged parapet tiles, undocumented asbestos and buried kerosene storage tanks. As more problems were discovered, it was apparent that the contractor’s originally budgeted unit allowances for repairs would not be enough.

Yet despite the effects on both cost and schedule, owner Felicity Property Co. of New Orleans was determined to press on and approved budget changes that would eventually bring the total project cost to more than $28 million.

“We had the mindset that once you go live with a project, you’re going to see it through,” explains Patrick Schindler, the company’s co-founder and managing partner. “We felt committed to honoring the building and the history associated with it, and we were fortunate to have a good project team that worked well together.”

Architect David Curtis of lead design firm Waggonner & Ball agrees. “It was a teamwork effort that benefited from having a good, proactive contractor and an owner that was closely involved,” he says.

Transformation Trends

Once full construction got underway in May 2021, the old courthouse’s many problems gradually gave way to solutions.

Prior to erecting 20 new structural steel elements to support the back third of the courthouse, for example, the team had to shore up the existing timber framing, requiring development of a detailed shoring plan that included temporary steel in confined spaces.

“We had a lot of meetings with shoring and structural engineers to get a good idea of the workflow and sequence and to make sure it was safe,” Stuart says. “The pace was slow, but it was the best way to proceed given the limited room.”

Many of the 16-in. by 16-in. roof trusses and second-floor decking elements were cut out and replaced with steel tubing, while the 3-and-3/4-in. by 16-in. first-floor joists were replaced with a 6-in. cast-in-place concrete slab. Several dozen rotted wooden window and doorway lintels—some spanning 8 ft in both height and width—were replaced with custom-fabricated structural steel elements that match the building’s historic profile.

Outside, Impetus oversaw an extensive masonry tuckpointing effort that utilized a historic mortar based on the vieux carre mixes used extensively for restoration projects in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Expert craftsmanship was also needed to repair the courthouse’s four 35-ft-tall front columns, precisely matching the parapet’s clay coping tiles and restoring three failing brick arches to their original profile.

“We touched everything in that building,” Stuart says.

Concurrent with the renovation, Impetus was constructing the Carrollton’s new residence wings, which total 85,500 sq ft. With the courthouse’s corbel footings stabilized by structural foam blocks, Impetus excavated approximately 10 ft to install nearly 770 55-ft D25 timber piles, with 2-ft-deep pile caps to support elevated slab-on-grade structures. Expansion joints wrap the perimeter of the new buildings to prevent potential damage from differential settlement. An inconspicuous system of interior ramps makes the 2-ft height differential between the second level of the courthouse and the second level of the adjacent wings virtually unnoticeable to residents.

Although early release of work packages helped mitigate post-pandemic supply chain issues and cost uncertainty, Impetus often had to take delivery of some materials long before they were needed, adding yet another challenge to an already confined site that offered little in the way of laydown space.

“What we didn’t know was the extent of the damage because of the decades of finish work covering the structure.”

– Alex Stuart, Project Manager, Impetus

“We stored foam, studs and windows up to six miles away, while continually adjusting site activities to make the most of the space, while also keeping the trades up to date on logistics,” Stuart says. “It really showed the importance of having a flexible site plan, something that we’ll apply to future projects.”

Despite its many complexities, the Carrollton was a remarkably safe construction effort, totaling nearly 346,000 work hours with no recordable incidents or lost-time accidents when work wrapped up in February 2023.

Today, the old courthouse is a far cry from what the project team first found. In addition to its full structural and exterior makeover, the building is a testament to technical artistry, with intricate trim details such as multi-tiered crown molding at the ceilings, wainscotting around the windows and distinctive mosaic floor tiling. Reclaimed wood framing from the original structure was milled down and repurposed as stair treads and risers, while other original wood elements were repurposed into a custom entry desk and a rail cap in the light well.

Outside, a pair of courtyards between the new wings offer sheltered outdoor spaces for residents to gather and socialize, and a network of sculptural storm water ponds that holds 100% of the block’s rainfall on site.

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