Courting solar energy at U.S. Bankruptcy Court building

Tom Sowa, Spokesman-Review

Spokane’s downtown U.S. Bankruptcy Court has turned back the clock, and the result is a courtroom that looks much brighter than it has been the past 60 years.

Thanks to a restoration of the original skylight sitting on the roof, the court’s main courtroom will have a dose of sunshine.

The rooftop restoration at the post office, at the corner of Lincoln Street and Riverside Avenue, is part of a $2.3 million energy upgrade paid for through the federal stimulus package.

As part of the skylight project, 24 fluorescent lights were removed from inside the third-floor courtroom, said General Services Administration spokeswoman Chelsea Turnbull.

Work crews, under the direction of MTM Contractors, Inc., used a crane to drop the new skylight into place this week, finishing the job Wednesday. The skylight weighs about 450 pounds and measures 12 by 8 by 3 feet tall.

The building dates from 1909 and the skylight erected on the northern half of the roof sat directly over the original courtroom.

Turnbull said no one could find documents that explain why the original skylight was removed and its opening covered with a metal shield. Spokane historians and renovation buffs suggest the glass was removed as an air-raid precaution during World War II. No one knows where the original skylight ended up.

Once the renovation project was approved, the GSA used a historic preservation officer to help design a skylight matching the original one, said Shadd Soth, a GSA property manager for the downtown federal post office building.

“It turned out as close to the original as we could get it, considering requirements we had for efficiency,” Soth said.

Spokane firms Krueger Sheet Metal and Valley Glass were hired to construct the skylight. The glass for the skylight comes from pieces salvaged from the large light well on the post office roof, which shines daylight onto the post office’s main floor.

When GSA renovated those light-well skylights in 2002, “We harvested and saved glass from that project, and the leftover pieces were used in the new skylight,” Soth said.

The skylight’s energy contribution will be substantial, he added. The major savings come from the removal of the 1960s-vintage fluorescent light panels that hung on the courtroom ceiling.

During normal daylight, the skylight should completely illuminate the courtroom. On dark days or in the evening, the skylight has a single LED light that shines light directly into the courtroom. That single LED light consumes just 5 percent of the energy used by one of the replaced fluorescent bulbs, Soth said.

Other improvements include a new heat-deflecting roof surface and energy-efficient chillers, Turnbull said.

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Last Reviewed 2015-02-12