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Corpus Christi: Renovation Concept for Hilltop Community Center Unveiled

Feature Illustration: The proposed Activity Garden plaza in the Hilltop Community Center, which could include a section of the former sanitarium’s incinerator, re-erected as public art. Source: Richter Architects.

Posted: 9-29-2021

by Adolfo Pesquera

Corpus Christi (Nueces County) — Commissioners Court received the architect’s presentation last week as to how the Hilltop Community Center could be upgraded, possibly to LEED Platinum status, and must now solve how to rise more than $15 million for the project.

David Richter of Richter Architects of Corpus Christi unveiled conceptual renderings and calculations that he and Elizabeth Chu Richter have been working on since the court decided in February that the beloved community center should not be demolished. The court’s prior assembly of elected officials had opted to raze the facility, despite its historical designation and popularity.

Hilltop Community Center first opened in 1953 as the Hilltop Tuberculosis Sanitarium, a 100-bed facility that treated patients until it was closed in 1968. The county later acquired the property and converted it to a community center to complement that adjacent Hilltop Park & Trails county park.

Concept rendering of the new main entrance. Source: Richter Architects.

While the court recently authorized roof repairs, the community center is generally in poor condition. However, the bones of the structure are of cast-in-place concrete and it was designed to make use of natural ventilation.

It is those two factors that Richter pointed to when he said the court should aspire to pursue a LEED Platinum certification, the highest goal of the U.S. Green Building Council’s rankings.

The serpentine loggia that would shield pedestrians within the complex from the elements.

“These buildings were built for natural ventilation. In our world today, natural vent is becoming an increasingly rare but treasured asset. We’re going to recapture that asset but with a modern twist,” Richter said.

Showing the commissioners a cross-section schematic of one of the six wings, he described a building automation system that would, among other things, mechanically operate the windows.

“There are sensors outside and inside that measure temperature, humidity and they identify the ingredients for comfort … they will open up when it’s comfortable to open up and they will close and bring in conditioned space when it’s comfortable to close. They will shut down when the building is not
occupied,” he said.

Richter’s plan is to strip the building down to its concrete shell. The old red brick cladding would be removed and replaced with a ceramic tile rain screen product. Rain screen technology breaks the force of sideways, wind-driven water movement to stop the momentum of water getting through small breaches in the surface.

Perspective of the meeting rooms as would be seen from the Orchard Garden.

Exterior walls would have a composite of rain screen siding and glass panels. There would be rainwater cisterns to store water for the irrigation of four themed gardens Richters proposes should be established between the facility’s six wings. The suggested themes include an Activity Garden that would be a social gathering place and it would have a concrete section of the former sanitarium’s incinerator erected to provide a centerpiece sculpture monument in memory of the facility’s origins.

The other garden themes suggested are a Victory Garden that would provide produce to the community, an Orchard Garden that might provide fruits and nuts along with shade, and a xeriscape native garden that would have mesquite, huisache and anaqua trees.

All six wings would get new roofing and solar arrays. Considering the area of the buildings’ roof system, he said it would be practical to have photovoltaic panels of sufficient scale to reach net zero energy use; the solar arrays might even be productive enough to sell power back to electric power company.

The site has many lawns and a single connecting sidewalk that is exposed to the elements. Another project feature would be the construction of a serpentine loggia to shade the walkway and protect pedestrians from sun and rain. There would also be new walking pathways.

A 3D aerial perspective, looking west, of the renovated complex.

In addition, three new buildings would be added to the complex. Their locations within the configuration would help seal off the perimeter, limiting public access to one entry, thus improving security, Richter said.

The scope of work includes the extensive renovation of 28,000 square feet and another 7,200 square feet of new construction for a total building area of 35,200 square feet. Richter said final designs could be available and the site ready for construction by Summer 2022; the actual schedule depends on how soon funds become available.

Richter provided a cost estimate for construction of $14,445,469. However, County Judge Barbara Canales noted that the estimate was for construction only. Professional service fees for design and other items such as furniture, fixtures and equipment could push the cost to around $18 million.

Canales directed staff to research grant funding sources. She suggested the project could be an ideal candidate for a FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant. The federal BRIC program opens the FY 2021 application period Sept. 30 (tomorrow) and there is a Jan. 28, 2022 deadline to submit a grant application, which could provide up to $25 million, depending on how the application is scored.

Hilltop Community Center is located at 11425 Leopard Street in Annaville, a far northwest subdivision of Corpus Christi.

VBX Project ID 2021-6E0E

The Hilltop Community Center looking south, as it exists today (below) and after renovation (above).


Related Images

The proposed floor plan for the renovated and expanded Hilltop Community Center.

Construction Preview
By |2021-09-29T14:02:43-05:00September 29th, 2021|Construction Preview, Feature Story|

About the Author:

Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.

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