Recycling An Old Schoolhouse

Gorman & Company recently completed the 25,000-square-foot redevelopment of Oregon’s historic, red-brick schoolhouse, originally built in 1922.

Gorman & Co. is a 24-year-old national real estate developer of complex urban infill housing and mixed-use projects, often using Section 42 tax credits and other sophisticated financing techniques to make projects feasible.

Gary Gorman needs to recruit and retain top talent, high-energy people who could work on Wall Street or for a global real estate investment firm. Gorman knows that the work environment is an absolutely critical part of his employment proposition.

First-rate work spaces\ The offices have the same level of technology staff could find anywhere in the world – and a quality of space to match. Gorman’s own architects retained vintage details and materials, yet provided large, perfectly-lighted spaces.

Careful thought was given to adjacencies: how teams work together and with other teams.

The conference rooms have state of the art audio-visual and communications equipment, including video links to clients and their own Milwaukee office.

Amenities & fun\ The main corridor overlooks the gym, which reminds everyone about the balance of work and play. Just behind what was the school stage is a 50s vintage “diner,” the company break room.

Gorman searched all over to find the “Select-O-Matics,” the table-top jukebox controllers common in that era. There’s also a real bar with dark-stained bead-board wainscoting and ceiling: what’s a better way to wind up a long day than with a cold beer?

Outside will be an entirely renovated garden that will welcome the community back to the schoolhouse steps.

Housing opportunities\ Recruits who might also be considering working and living in New York City will be stunned to see what kind of house $250,000 will buy in Oregon, Wis.

While many new staffers might be single and commute to and from the night life in Madison, in time they’ll see the distinct benefits and pleasures of small town living. If they can settle into the community, they’ll likely stay with the company a very long time.

Culture & character\ It’s of course important that Gorman’s own building represents and reinforces the quality and complexity of their projects around the country; investors who visit will see proof of Gorman’s expertise.

While the entry includes flat-panel displays of Gorman’s projects, visitors of a certain age will remember the tile-lined water cooler stations, how the principal’s office is at the end of the main hall, the separate boy’s and girl’s entrances, the exposed, riveted steel beams over the gym.

It’s the details that bring a building to life. As Gorman says, “historic rehab is the ultimate recycling.”

Creativity is needed in every project phase, from acquisition strategies to design and construction to leasing and management. Every Gorman employee will live in an inspiring example of how sophisticated development can transform a community. Gorman’s headquarters is a perfect example of how architecture shapes corporate culture in a planned and positive way.

Derrick Van Mell is principal of Van Mell Associates, management consultants specializing in strategic facility decisions. Steve Steinhoff is executive director of the Neighborhood Design Center, helping communities become great places.