Bringing a derelict building back to life may be more sustainable than erecting a new building, but it is no easy task. Royal Mills, on the banks of the Pawtuxet River in Rhode Island, was built in 1890 and quickly became one Or the world’s busiest as hydro-powered cotton mills, serving as the signature cotton mill for the Fruit of the Loom clothing company. More than 100 years after its heyday, the mill stood vacant and deserted. After major fire in 1919, more than a century of harsh wet weather, union strikes, political staging, misplaced cigarettes, and neglect from 10 years of vacancy had taken its toll.
Developer Struever Bros. Eccles 84 Rouse purchased the mill in 2004 and had big plans for the refurbishment of Royal Mills. Over the next 5 years, they worked to renew and revitalize the vacant old mill and develop the building into trendy one- and two-bedroom and loft style apartments. Their plans also involved Royal Mills having public and retail spaces on the ground level and a revived riverfront with public walking paths. Due to its close proximity to Providence, Rhode Island, and its gorgeous location, the developer was convinced Royal Mills could be one of the most unique and inspiring live and work leasing spaces in America. In order to make their dream into a reality, a lot of work would need to be done first. The building required extensive renovation, restoration, and waterproofing, and the team tasked with this job was committed to doing it sustainably.
In an effort to make an environmentally sustainable choice, the developer invited New England Dry Concrete, a local distributor of integral crystalline waterproofing products, to conduct an extensive study assessing the various conditions that plagued the restoration. The company found severe water intrusion, including wet stone and brick inside some apartments, as well as poor conditions in many below grade suites. They learned 15 percent of the suites had water damage due to leaks in the foundation, windows, or walls. Repairs would have to be done to the interior and exterior mortar work and the mill’s floor slabs required replacement. Without adequate waterproofing repair work, the developer was looking at potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue over the coming years as water damage left damp suites empty and unrentable.
The mill’s location on the banks of the river made excavation and external waterproofing impossible. As a result, the development team decided to use integral crystalline waterproofing. Not only did the decision to go with Kryton’s integral waterproofing mean it would eliminate volatile organic compounds typically associated with traditional membrane application, it also made sure there’d be no tar or petroleum-based materials—making the waterproofing process that much more green.
By using integral waterproofing, the team also guaranteed the longevity of their waterproofing job. Over time, unique chemicals react with concrete and water to form millions of microscopic crystals. The crystals grow and fill the capillaries, pores, and cracks in concrete. If moisture enters the structure in future years, the crystals reactivate and grow, continuing to block water flow. This continuous waterproofing ability keeps structures dry over the long term.
The team decided to use Kryton International Inc.’s Krystol Internal Membrane (KIM) during the replacement construction of the structure’s floor slabs and elevator pits. It also used Krystol T1—a cementitious brush—applied treatment—on the interior walls that were located below the river level. Two of Kryton’s other products, aterproofing grout Krystol Bari-Cote and rapid-setting hydraulic cement Krystol Plug, were used to waterproof more than 1,500 window sills and lintels. Finally, 250,000 square feet of Hydrostop was used to ·seal the original stone exterior. Hydrostop is a polymer state-of—the-art water repellent sealer that maintains the original appearance of a structure. For the historic Royal Mills building, this was a key benefit. The waterproofing work took more than 6 months to complete.
Throughout the extensive renovation project, a key building element was reusing, adapting, and recycling as much building material as possible. In the end, the building team was able to salvage 500,000 square feet of historical brick, mortar, stone, and steel. In addition to the reuse and refinishing of all the original wood floors of the mill, roughly 50 percent of the construction debris wound up either as building signage, railings, way-finding, public seating, pathways, and other common areas.
The efforts to reuse old mill materials weren’t limited to the outside. The developer also incorporated the old cotton mill’s machinery in the interior, giving it new life as furniture or structural railings and even art installations. Meanwhile, the team refurbished the old dam (originally built in 1861) with a new megawatt, hydro-powered turbine strong enough to power the common areas.
The project was finished ahead of schedule in mid-2009 and came in on budget. When it was finished, a desolate and decrepit memory of the 19th century building had been transformed into luxury living of the 21st century. Finished with granite kitchen counter tops, maple cabinetry and vanities, porcelain bath floor tiles, and cultured marble vanity tops, the new suites were as steeped in elegance as they were in heritage. The soaring ceilings, exposed brick and wood beams, hardwood floors, and in-home washers and dryers completed the elegant interiors, all without losing any of Royal Mills’ historical charm. From the large oversized windows in all the suites, new residents could look out over the forest, the Pawtuxet River, or the surrounding town of West Warwick. Most importantly, Royal Mills had been transformed from a derelict building into a historical monument to the past. After years of work, it is now listed on the U.S. National Historic Register and was recently named the 201 O New England International Concrete Repair Institute Project of the Year. Today it stands as an elegant, historic, and dry development blending old stone walls with modern luxury.
By Jillian Work