black and white image of JFK federal building in Boston
The John F. Kennedy Federal Building, Boston, MA, was recently listed in the National Register.

Decades of Historic Preservation at GSA Continues to Improve Performance and Sustainability of PBS Inventory

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As we mark National Preservation Month, GSA’s looking back on the evolution of historic preservation and how the future will look for the national treasures it preserves. Every year the number of GSA’s historic, architectural, and culturally significant buildings increases. Today, GSA owns 514 historic buildings listed in, or eligible for, the National Register of Historic Places. GSA’s historic buildings constitute about one-third of GSA’s owned portfolio and house more than 40 percent of its rentable square footage. During National Preservation Month, GSA’s Public Buildings Service (PBS) celebrates historic buildings and the important roles they continue to play. 

Located in Boston’s Government Center across from Boston City Hall, the John F. Kennedy Federal Building was completed in 1966. The approximately one-million-square-foot building with its commissioned artworks is nationally significant as one of GSA’s most outstanding Modern designs. It represents the work of architectural firm, The Architects Collaborative, led by Walter Gropius, in collaboration with Samuel Glaser. The building was recently listed in the National Register.

GSA is participating in the ongoing government wide effort to expand the use of the Section 111 authority in the National Historic Preservation Act, which allows federal agencies to lease historic properties to non-federal entities. GSA has worked with the architectural team of SmithGroup, Trivers and Studio Gang to identify potential opportunities for strengthening its historic building outleasing program. This effort identified public and private sector interest to partner with GSA on a variety of programming, and a follow-on study will pilot a business case for two such scenarios. Outleasing funds earned in GSA’s historic buildings are reinvested in preservation projects throughout the historic portfolio. In FY21 nearly 61 percent, or $12.5 million, of GSA’s outleasing revenue was earned in historic buildings. 

GSA’s historic buildings play a role in the Administration’s climate and sustainability initiatives, particularly the multiple provisions of Executive Order 14057 regarding actions to reduce embodied carbon in the federal building portfolio to achieve net-zero by 2045. Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. 

For example, it is a proven preservation principle that using historic buildings is cost, energy, and carbon effective, as building rehabilitation usually generates between 50-70 percent less emissions than new construction. Also, generally the return on rehabilitation investment is achieved in about half the time of that of new construction. 

A current project, the seismic retrofit and major modernization of the Frank E. Moss Courthouse in Salt Lake City, illustrates these substantial benefits. The continued use of the building - rather than demolition and building anew - is projected to save 8,695 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is equal to the carbon emissions from nearly a million gallons of gasoline consumed or the electricity used in 1,580 houses for a year. This is another example of how reinvesting in historic buildings demonstrates GSA’s commitment to sustainable design and responsible stewardship.

To maintain historic buildings’ performance for our client agencies and the communities they serve, GSA constantly seeks innovative solutions and sound reinvestment in historic buildings to strike a measured balance between stewardship mandates and fiscal responsibilities as missions, economic, and social circumstances change. 

As we near the conclusion of National Preservation Month we recommit to advancing the  preservation ethic as an essential component of GSA’s mission to deliver the best value in real estate. 

To learn more, please visit GSA Historic Preservation.

Last Reviewed: 2022-05-26