Amtrak to put the 'great' back in Chicago Union Station's Great Hall

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CHICAGO — In about a year, customers of Amtrak, Metra and other users of Chicago Union Station will enjoy a Great Hall painted in its original colors, made brighter by a restored and protected skylight with improved lighting in a $22-million project.

The work, now underway and self-funded by Amtrak, is designed by architect Goettsch Partners and contractor Berglund Construction to minimize disruption to the flow of people through the station, which is the fourth busiest in the national Amtrak network. The construction team devised a creative solution to maintain access to the Great Hall by using a suspended working deck and swing stages, in lieu of much scaffolding, to allow customers to move freely below.

A crane erected on Clinton Street is being used to move materials through the building and above the Great Hall. The painting and plaster repairs have been divided into phases, to further provide full customer access to the Great Hall during the repairs.

The Great Hall at Chicago Union Station, completed in 1925, was designed by Daniel Burnham and successor firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. The centerpiece of the Great Hall is a 219-foot-long skylight that soars 115 feet above the floor. Over the decades, it has deteriorated due to water damage and flaws within the original design.

Working with Amtrak, a team from Goettsch Partners, Klein & Hoffman and Environmental Systems Design completed an extensive investigation of the space within the Great Hall to determine the extent of repairs needed while respecting the historic nature of the building. The investigation concluded the original barrel-vaulted skylight was not designed to adequately keep water out and no longer met current codes, so an extensive upgrade was necessary.

In order to maintain the historic appearance of the skylight from within the Great Hall and to overcome the complications of the existing drainage system, the team will construct a modern energy-efficient, skylight above the historic skylight. The new skylight will protect the historic skylight with a new drainage design and maintenance system.

When finished, natural light into the Great Hall is expected to increase by about 50 percent by replacing the 2,052 pieces of glass in frames that had been made bigger over the years in a failed effort to prevent leaks in the historic skylight. The panes will be transparent, rather than the wire-embedded glass that was used previously. The new skylight will have 858 panes of clear, high-efficiency glass, five feet above the historic skylight.

Once the skylight and roof work has been completed, ensuring that the Great Hall will remain dry, the historic skylight — along with water-damaged plaster and stone — will be restored. The finishes will include the return of the historic paint colors to the walls and ceiling.

While the work is performed, customers will notice less light in the Great Hall because of the suspended deck and scaffolding erected in the areas around the room, including the balconies, grand staircases and the passage between the Great Hall and the station concourse.

As Berglund goes forward, it will work with the ACE Mentor Chicago, which has a 14-year partnership with Chicago public high schools and a special focus on recruiting minority and female students. These groups are significantly under-represented in the construction and design industry and in professional occupations overall.

The plan, approved by local and state historic preservation agencies, is to complete the project by late 2018.

— An Amtrak news release. Sept. 25, 2017.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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