Polishing up Ithaca’s West End

Retaining the beauty of the past while supporting a sustainable future: Elmira Savings Bank polishes up Ithaca’s West End

The new home for Elmira Savings Bank (ESB) at 602 West State shows how smart re-use can bring an abandoned, century-old structure back to life.  This revived commercial space was originally built to house the Ithaca VFW, was transformed into a funeral home, and later housed a succession of restaurants. Now the home of a full-service community bank, this high-performance building shows how sustainable design can maintain the aesthetic allure of historic buildings.

The design team, led by HOLT Architects, understood the significance of the building as a landmark located at one of Ithaca’s busiest intersections. Although it does not lie within a designated historic area, the building owner and designers were conscious of its value to the community. The ideas for the renovation they presented to the city planners reflected their research and respect for retaining as much of the circa-1900 building as possible.

Image courtesy of HOLT Architects

The original brick exterior, which had been painted blue in recent years, was cleaned and restored to its original appearance as depicted in historic photographs. A renovated entry, upgraded building envelope, and windows that recreate the look of the original steel frames were added to improve the overall energy efficiency of the building. Metal sunshades were installed on the windows to temper the strong sunlight pouring in throughout the day.

A new 1,600 SF brick and glass addition to the north offers natural light and added functionality. On the west, a convenient drive-through service window uses an underground pneumatic tube system. The canopy for the drive-through complements the existing architecture, and thoughtful site work provides ease of access for bank customers and employees.

The interior of the building had deteriorated over the years, making the floor and roof systems irreparable. The design team was challenged to create a new, enhanced infrastructure with floors, walls, joists, and roofing. The new design is informed by state-of-the-art banking system workflow needs and the specific visual aesthetics and branding of Elmira Savings Bank. The renovated interior features a hybrid teller-line solution; streamlined, efficient technology mounting; and advanced acoustics to ensure customer privacy. Natural light fills the interior, creating a bright, lively, and engaging space for commercial banking clients and employees.

Taitem Engineering designed the mechanical and electrical systems for the building, which included electrical systems to accommodate bank equipment, security access points, and a new heating and cooling system. The original building was heated with a conventional boiler loop serving perimeter radiation and cooled through a rooftop unit serving the second floor and an air handler located in the basement serving the first floor. The owner’s goal was to have a consolidated mechanical system with all interior equipment located in the ceiling space and all exterior equipment at grade for easy maintenance. 

Taitem’s mechanical engineer, Dominick DeLucia, suggested an air source heat pump to achieve ESB’s energy and efficiency goals. Taitem’s design team suggested the owners take a tour of HOLT Architects’ new offices to get a better understanding of this kind of system. After touring the space, ESB board members agreed that an air source heat pump would meet their heating and cooling needs efficiently and economically. They also appreciated the look and feel of the exposed ductwork that is showcased in HOLT’s new space.

Dominick DeLucia, the project engineer from Taitem Engineering shared, “not only has the air source heat pump system improved the efficiency of the heating and cooling for the entire building, but It has also allowed for zoning each space on both floors to improve overall occupant comfort.” The air source heat pump system was paired with an energy recovery ventilation system on each floor, which also greatly improves the indoor air quality and comfort to employees and clients.

Elmira Savings Bank intends to install a solar electric system on the building in the future and aims to be part of the Ithaca 2030 District, an interdisciplinary public-private collaboration working to create a groundbreaking high-performance building district in Downtown Ithaca. The 2030 District project is part of a larger effort in Tompkins County to reduce Ithaca’s greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.

From high-efficiency windows that mimic the original steel frames, to the all-electric heating and cooling system, these improvements are a testament to the sustainability efforts of the Elmira Savings Bank board and its commitment to the Ithaca community. The building reflects the beauty of so many older Tompkins County buildings as well as the community’s preservation ethic. The ESB board is “walking the walk” when it comes to sustainability and achieving its goals to significantly reduce energy use in their buildings. The success of this project laid the groundwork for another celebrated Elmira Savings Bank location in Vestal, where the team will continue to showcase the preservation of historic buildings in the Southern Tier, while moving its valued building stock forward toward a sustainable future.