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Ten years later - Looking back on the World Food Prize project

Friday, June 14, 2019

Ten years ago Neumann Brothers kicked off the $23 million restoration of the historic 1903 Des Moines Public Library building into the headquarters for the World Food Prize Foundation. The three-phase project took two and a half years to complete and was the first LEED Platinum historic landmark project in the state of Iowa. The goal for the building was to turn the library into a unique, elegant, energy efficient space to serve the public for events and provide a home for the World Food Prize. 

To restore the original grandeur to the building, special attention was given to maintaining the historic integrity. The building featured Works Projects Administration (WPA) murals, decorative metal book shelves, ornamental wood work, marble wainscoting, ornamental plaster moldings and impressive ornamental stained glass features. Whenever possible, the original elements were carefully restored or matched exactly. New oak floors, Italian marble tile, hand sewn wool carpeting, and gold leaf stenciling were added to complement the existing features. The original 20-foot diameter stained glass dome was removed piece by piece, restored and painstakingly reinstalled and now provides a stunning feature when you walk into the atrium.

Outside, the parking lot was transformed into a year-round garden that is home to over 50,000 plants and bulbs that cover a deep rock chamber used to reduce water run-off. The garden also boasts a 20-foot diameter fountain, a 50-foot wide granite world map, two 11-foot tall statues and stone benches scattered tastefully throughout so visitors can sit amongst the plants. Two new stone staircases were also added to the building. One replaced the original grand staircase that had been removed long ago on the east side and the other replaced a drive through, book drop area on the west. Both were constructed using perfectly matched stone from the original mine – that provided the building’s exterior stone – that was salvaged from an old railroad bridge in Minnesota.

To achieve the Owner’s vision of energy efficiency, over 100 geothermal wells were installed beneath the garden to heat and cool the building. An 8,000-gallon reclaimed water tank sits under the east staircase and re-circulates rain water to the garden and supplies water for the urinals and water closets in the building. Additionally, 96 photovoltaic solar panels were installed on the roof that assist with the building’s electrical usage and feed the automatically controlled lighting system. New mechanical and electrical systems were added as well to bring the building up to code and add additional efficiencies.  These elements contributed to the project receiving Iowa’s only Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification for restoration projects. 

Today, the World Food Prize building provides an impressive venue for events, making it one of Des Moines’ most attractive and interesting locations.