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An Extreme Makeover for Bernalillo County

February 25, 2022 

When a cast-off building in the heart of downtown Albuquerque receives an intelligent extreme makeover for a new owner – the outcome is transformational. 

Less than three years ago, the BernCo@Alvarado Square building was a nondescript and vacant 1970’s mid-rise office tower. It was in ill repair and ripe for a new purpose. The building was purchased by Bernalillo County in 2017 for just $2.7 million.

Bernalillo County’s strategic decision to purchase an optimally located and priced older building in downtown Albuquerque, then to revitalize it with a smart extreme makeover into a lively one-stop facility for most county services, has proven to be a beneficial economic move.

Design and construction work for BernCo@Alvarado Square began in March 2019 after the design-build team of HB Construction and Dekker/Perich/Sabatini (DPS) was awarded the project. It was efficiently completed, on a fast-track schedule, in summer 2021.

After its purchase by Bernalillo County and its renovation completed, the building, with a new vibrant county commissions chambers addition and a welcoming design, has transformed its downtown Albuquerque neighborhood. The neighborhood is now active and feels safer with eyes on the street through security at the building and the presence of the sheriff’s offices. The shops and restaurants are doing brisk business and the overall cleanliness of the area has improved with maintenance done on the building grounds.

BernCo@Alvarado Square is also transforming the way Bernalillo County staffers serve constituents with faster and well-coordinated service that is now possible with new technology and the consolidation of offices that formerly were in buildings throughout the county.  

BernCo@Alvarado Square has a total of 282,000 square feet on eight floors, plus basement, and an adjoining 12,000-square-foot county commission chamber facility with comfortable seating for 200, good acoustics in the chambers, robust technology throughout the facility, and expanded broadcast capability.

The commission chambers addition was designed and constructed on a lot next to the existing mid-rise building to artfully create a striking new entrance to BernCo@Alvarado Square. 

Through successful extreme makeovers of older structures, such as BernCo@Alvarado Square, visionary property owners can achieve important goals, including economic savings, efficiency gains, and environmental sustainability. 

Upfront and Continuing Economic Savings 

Revitalizing existing assets through extreme makeovers benefits an organization’s bottom line with renovation costs that are often significantly lower than new construction, land acquisition, and or demolition costs. 

For Bernalillo County,  the consolidation of county offices/services and the sale of older properties scattered around the metro area has ensured the county will benefit year after year from significant savings on maintenance, energy, transportation, and overall operational costs.  

Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca explained, “In 2017, the county purchased the building for just $2.7 million with the goal of consolidating services to create a one-stop-shop customer service experience, while also reducing the county’s physical, environmental, and financial footprint. Today, I believe we are well on the road to becoming a leaner, more efficient organization.” 

Total project cost for the extreme makeover of BernCo@Alvarado Square was $68 million, which included all hard construction costs and soft costs, such as studies, design, insurance, special testing, and furnishings. Design, construction, and furnishings amounted to just $177 per square foot for the project. 

Typically, design and construction costs for gutting and renovating an older mid-rise building with new HVAC, electrical, and plumbing can range from $250 to $335 per square foot. Building a new mid-rise office building today would likely be in the range of $440 to $560 per square foot, not including land or furnishings. (Based on Levelset Average Mid-rise Cost Data and 2021 Square Foot Costs Book with RSMeans data.)

Many factors played into the lower-than-average cost of the renovation. The timing was great for design and construction in terms of labor availability and material costs. In addition, a well-executed design and construction procurement process that followed the Design-Build Institute of America’s Design-Build Done Right® method made this project successful. Other factors included excellent collaboration, communication, and management by the county and D-B team. Direct involvement at every step of the process from a large group of subcontractors and their engineers during the planning and design phase was instrumental in project success as well. 

Efficiency Gains, Ongoing Value 

More than 800 employees are now working in the centrally situated and revitalized BernCo@Alvarado Square. County departments now residing in one location include the County Commission, Clerk, Assessor, Treasurer, Probate, Sheriff, County Manager and about 20 other internal offices and departments.

Each floor includes flexible open office space with enclosed offices organized within the core. Huddle and larger conference rooms with standardized technology, quiet rooms, and break rooms help support a collaborative and productive work environment. Large training rooms with the latest audiovisual technology are used for the 2,500 Bernalillo County employees working within and outside of BernCo@Alvarado Square. 

Bernalillo County employees also enjoy ample natural sunlight, healthy, well-ventilated spaces, outdoor eating and working areas, bike racks, employee health clinic, employee fitness center, showers, changing rooms, on-site café, and rooftop patio. 

Citizens and businesses are able to complete transactions with Bernalillo County in a one-stop location that is convenient, secure, welcoming, and full of productivity-enhancing technology, including a state-of-the-art security system and info desk at the entry. 

Services provided by the County are enhanced with smart and attractive directional aids, a large collection of artwork, and heritage displays that reflect the rich culture of New Mexico – all contained in a fresh, efficient, contemporary design.

Environmental Responsibility

Through a strategic retrofit of this aging building, the embedded energy that was already expended in the original construction is saved, rather than consuming more energy by demolition and building new.

The U.S. Energy Administration estimates that nearly 50 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the operation, renovation, and construction of buildings. Making environmentally responsible decisions for building construction and retrofitting has become essential in our 21st century.

Through its extreme makeover, BernCo@Alvarado Square now runs with the latest in energy-saving, healthy HVAC systems and equipment. No refrigerants known to cause ozone depletion were used in the building’s HVAC systems. 

In addition, 50 percent of all construction and demolition waste from this renovation was diverted from the landfill. “The old building had good bones, and we reused as much as we possibly could,” said Shiree McKenzie, AIA, DBIA, Bernalillo County construction program manager. Including some of the elements that highlighted and celebrated the building’s original architectural design and history, the Design-Build team retrofitted existing globe wall sconces and updated existing glass elevator safety enclosures to be design features.

Other materials such as light fixtures were recycled for Bernalillo County’s repurposing use and sale, and over 99% of construction waste was diverted from landfills. New materials were chosen for their high recycled content and purchased from manufacturers committed to sustainability.

A state-of-the-art security system for BernCo@Alvarado Square was installed along with new water and sewer lines, IT system upgrades, a new data center, ADA compliance upgrades, electrical upgrades, a new generator, ENERGY STAR® appliances, high-tech air filtration, power over ethernet LED lighting systems and significant HVAC system upgrades, including the readapted, energy-efficient chiller.

“Bernalillo County received a $202,848 check from the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) because of the increased efficiencies at BernCo@Alvarado Square,” said Bernalillo Commission Chair Charlene Pyskoty. “That’s a fine example of how the county is using taxpayer resources wisely and responsibly at its new flagship headquarters to benefit and serve the entire community for many years to come.” 

BernCo@Alvarado Square uses about 45 percent less potable water than comparable structures, thus conserving about 700,000 gallons of water each year. In addition,the building's landscaping uses about 70 percent less water than average, conserving another 120,000 gallons per year.

The successful completion of BernCo@Alvarado Square resulted in the building being on track for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. It is also officially the first in the state of New Mexico to receive a two-star Fitwel® designation for healthy buildings.

“At Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, we believe it’s our responsibility to help clients incorporate environmentally sustainable materials, equipment, and technology into their buildings,” said Dale Dekker, DPS founder. “With extreme makeover projects, we are especially proud to capture the embedded energy and legacy of an outdated building and then to repurpose and revitalize that structure into one that performs better than ever.” Dekker/Perich/Sabatini and HB Construction were the Design-Build Architectural and Construction team leaders. They were supported by a great team of consulting engineers and area subcontractors.

BernCo@Alvarado Square has been transformed from a dated, unused office building into a city-center landmark and vibrant hub for government operations efficiently serving New Mexico’s most populous county.

Bernalillo County has joined the growing list of public and private sector building owners capitalizing on the economic savings, efficiency gains, and environmental sustainability benefits of a successful extreme makeover. 


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