“A lot of people might not think that preservation is feasible or attainable. But this is a glowing example of what can be done. It provides proof that it is possible. So especially in this time of anticipated growth in Rochester, growth doesn’t always mean brand new buildings. It can mean preserving and giving new life to an old facility made new,” said Mike Benike, Project Manager at Benike Construction.
Benike has been part of a team charged with preserving and rehabilitating the Conley-Maass Building, on 4th Street SW, for over the past year. His construction team began physical work on the building only seven months ago. At that time, there was a good amount of skepticism surrounding the project due to the poor existing condition of the building.
“The bones were fantastic, but there was a lot of just plain old garbage inside,” Benike explained.
Before construction began, the entire basement was filled with trash. A good amount of previous remodeling of the building had been completed in a haphazard manner. But the team had hope and collectively started a year-long learning project to restore the building and prepare for its new tenants.
“What makes a project attractive is the team that’s going to be doing the project. We had a really great team, from the owner [Hunter and Traci Downs], and the design team with Adam Ferrari and 9.SQUARE, and ourselves, and even our subcontractor team that was underneath us was a group of high performers. We had a lot of good talent on the project.”
Benike estimated that over twenty different contractors made up the construction team, not including the design consultants involved, like 9.SQUARE, historical and development consultants, and special inspections. Over one hundred different tradespeople took part in the Conley-Mass rehabilitation at one point or another during the project.
The strength and cohesion of the entire team involved in the Conley-Maass restoration is the real unsung hero of the building.
“It starts at the owner. Their approach and attitude can trickle down to the other project partners. We had just a great, collaborative delivery.”
Benike Construction became involved in this journey at the Conley-Maass building last May with an initial meeting with owner Traci Downs and project architect and design consultant Adam Ferrari. At that time, the construction team saw the vision, scope, and challenges of the project, which Benike says posed a very exciting and unique opportunity.
The team then entered the pre-construction phase over the next nine months. Finally, in January of this year, actual construction on the building began. The group was given seven months to complete the restoration process, a fairly tight deadline. But they took the challenge on and logged a lot of labor hours in a short amount of time.
Benike Construction used a lean construction technique to establish open communication between their team on the ground, which was essential to complete the Conley-Maass restoration within the seven-month timeframe. In this process, instead of the project manager creating a weekly schedule for the project, the project superintendent and the people in the field collaborate to develop the weekly plan, looking six weeks ahead.
“[Lean construction] provides reliability that the person doing the work is saying, ‘I can commit to doing this for this week.’ And everyone in the room knows that that person is going to do these things for this week,” Benike explained.
In the early stages of the construction process this past winter, the focus was on demolition and restoration of historic materials within the Conley-Maass Building. Internal walls that were not historic or part of the original structure were gutted. Several of the interior partitions and the electrical and mechanical systems had been pieced together so many times over the years, that it was better to remove them and start new.
There were a lot of surprises unearthed during the demo process.
“Did anyone tell you about the well?” Benike asked me. No. No, they had not.
The team also made some unique discoveries in the building’s attic. They found old, original materials like doors, windows, and even a dishwasher. An old invoice to an electrical contractor from 1914 was even unearthed. The best part: the company is still in business in Rochester and does some work with Benike Construction to this day.
The Conley-Maass building, 14 on 4th Street SW, was added to the National Register of Historic Places, so a large focus during the construction process was reuse and preservation of original materials within the space. (Click here to read a full description of the salvage and restoration of materials in the building from the perspective of Adam Ferrari.)
“If people walk in and see the existing materials or the old materials, not everything was in its place when we walked in. That’s pretty unique to see either historic windows or wood trim that was salvaged off a different portion of the building […] and incorporated into the final design, whether it was in a different floor or a different space,” Benike explained.
Salvage and utilization of original materials from the building was one of the most challenging aspects of the project, but it paid off. The staircase leading from the Bleu Duck Kitchen on the first to the second floor is one shining, repurposed gem. The tread of the stairs is composed of salvaged joists, which were cut out of the building to install a different two story staircase and elevator. The rise portion of the stairs are from repurposed subflooring that was covering the original hardwood.
The coolest part is that this staircase was built, by hand, by a descendant by marriage of the Maass family. Maass and McAndrews was a plumbing and mechanical company that occupied the Conley-Maass building for about forty-five years, and contributed to the building’s current name.
Construction on the building is now 99% complete. The results are stunning.
“It’s been a very fun project to be a part of. I’m really proud to have participated in it. … And I definitely want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Hunter and Traci Downs. They took the leap. Without them seeing what could happen here, without them having the vision and taking the risk to make it happen, there wouldn’t have been a project. We’re fortunate to have them in the community.”