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Schmidt Leads Adaptive Reuse of Historic P.R. Mallory Factory Building in Indianapolis

by: Jack Quigley
Schmidt Associates, Anderson and Bohlander, LLC, and Brandt Construction recently completed the adaptive reuse of a former factory building in the Englewood neighborhood of Indianapolis. The P.R. Mallory Factory once produced national defense materials for World War II and is famously known as the site where the Duracell battery was invented.

Production at the site ceased in 1979, and in 2018, the Englewood Community Development Corporation and the John Boner Neighborhood Center purchased the campus’ main administrative building that had been vacant for decades.

The building’s owners decided that the site should continue to be used as a maker space, and one of the building’s current occupants – Purdue Polytechnic High School – quickly emerged as a perfect tenant because of their unique education model. The school’s vision aligned closely with the owners’ intent for the building, so the 100-plus-year-old factory building was transformed into an educational facility that now hosts two schools.

Collaborating with the New Tenants
Two schools now occupy the 20th century neoclassical factory building: Purdue Polytechnic and Paramount Englewood. Lisa Gomperts, Principal and Project Manager for Schmidt said her firm worked closely with administrators from both schools to design a facility that furthers their educational goals.

She said her team toured Purdue Polytech’s former space to better understand the school’s methods of education before determining design strategies that would improve the school’s instruction abilities.

“The tour gave us a good sense of how they operated in their space,” Gomperts said. “Their curriculum is pretty unique. Students have a lot of time to do independent study and group type projects, so it’s not the traditional classroom for 30 students with a shut door and everybody facing the same direction lecture style.”

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Subsequently, Schmidt’s design incorporates a variety of open spaces that encourage collaboration amongst students. Many classrooms built for Purdue Polytech do not have doors and are not fully enclosed, and their completely open cafeteria space takes up almost a third of the upper floor plate.

“There are overhead garage doors that allow spaces to open up to each other as well as barn doors in between classrooms that allow rooms to open up to each other,” Gomperts said. “So, they can have a small class of twelve students or open it up and have a larger class of 24 to 25.”

As for Paramount Englewood’s part of the building, Gomperts said Schmidt’s experience working with them on previous designs gave her team a better understanding of the school’s education model coming into the project. Paramount Englewood’s space is more enclosed than Purdue Polytech’s area due to Paramount’s more acoustically sensitive teaching methods.

But similar to their neighboring school, Paramount administrators wanted their new space to allow for more flexibility. Paramount now has a large commons area that can be used for different functions, as well as operable partitions around one classroom that allow staff to expand their commons area or break off space that can be used as a student resource area.

“This building lent itself very well to that because by the time we took out all the debris from the building, it was an open floor plate,” Gomperts said.

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The site also includes a green community space outside the building where vacant parking lots once stood, as well as a smaller building behind the facility the produces healthy food products. Schmidt hopes this outdoor space will eventually be used for farmers markets and other community events, with the long-term goal of raising funding to turn the space into a park.

Respecting History While Remaining Flexible
P.R. Mallory’s famous factory building has been vacant for years, but its long history of production and innovation secured its place on the National Register of Historic Places. Schmidt’s adaptive reuse of the former factory required approval from organizations like the National Parks Service and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, who wanted to ensure that the building’s history was preserved in the new design.

Schmidt worked closely with these organizations and other community groups to understand how their firm could respectfully repurpose a building that holds so much historical value to members of the community. Gomperts said throughout their planning process, her team tried to preserve many of the historic design elements that made this building unique.

The factory’s original main entryway, which included a single pair of double doors and terrazzo tile, was preserved in the updated design. Original wood flooring from the factory is incorporated in the new lobby area that includes a wall with historic photos of the building and a model of the original Duracell battery. A historic interpretive panel that describes the building’s history also sits outside the facility.

Schmidt additionally updated and kept each of the factory’s original 206 windows that flood the building with natural light. Gomperts said her firm found it challenging to design the space for an entirely new purpose while maintaining its historic aesthetic.

“It takes an incredible amount of teamwork to put a project of this size together and make it successful,” Gomperts said.

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She attributed much of the project’s success to collaboration efforts made between P.R. Mallory, LLC, Schmidt, Anderson and Bohlander, Brandt Construction, and administrators from both schools.

“When we first walked into that building, it was really hard to see beyond all the damage and layers and layers of paint,” Gomperts said. “It was so neat to see the beautiful wood and existing brick as it was getting exposed and it is such a neat blending of technology with the historic elements.”

Gomperts said the former industrial facility now integrates high-level technology throughout its 56 classroom spaces. For Purdue Polytech, there are two maker spaces that serve different purposes: one is a “clean tech lab” that focuses more on computers and project strategies, while the other is a “dirty maker space” where students can execute their projects with tools like drill presses and band saws. These spaces include large mobile monitors that allow students to project their plans and collaborate on projects.

Similarly, Paramount’s space includes flexible technology like mobile smartboards that move around classrooms and support a variety of projects and room setups. Gomperts said Schmidt incorporated flexible opportunities in their design with the expectation that these spaces will help each school enhance its curriculum.

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