ESD Tours Dearborn’s Award-Winning Dingell Transit Center

DEARBORN — Members of The Engineering Society of Detroit got an up-close look at the newest addition to Dearborn’s magnificent historic attractions — the John D. Dingell Transit Center — in an exclusive, members-only tour Wednesday.

While it only opened last fall, planning for the Dingell Center began in 2000, when the city received a Michigan Department of Transportation study grant. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — better known as the federal stimulus — provided the $28 million for site improvements, railroad track expansion, and the $12 million building itself.

The idea was to create a Dearborn train and bus station more convenient to The Henry Ford, Dearborn’s west downtown district, and the campuses of the University of Michigan – Dearborn and Henry Ford College.

The project went through several design iterations, but stuck mostly with the one chosen by a public workshop process in 2004. The building kept traditional design elements like brick facade and rounded arches, though it’s more contemporary looking on its north side, which faces Michigan Avenue, and more antique in appearance on its south side, which faces The Henry Ford. (Indeed, designers from Neumann/Smith Architecture of Southfield had to show with 3D modeling that people visiting The Henry Ford’s 1828-vintage Firestone Farm building wouldn’t have their historic experience disturbed by the station’s architecture on the northern horizon.)

A bridge over the railroad tracks provides direct access to the north end of The Henry Ford, but that gate has not yet been opened for visitor use.

The design team also overcame a unique challenge under federal disability law by creating boarding platforms that flip up if freight carriers that use the same state-owned tracks exercise their right to transport extra-wide, extra-low loads.

The site also has sustainability features that will likely lead to LEED certification, including LED lighting inside and out, bioswales to minimize stormwater runoff, landscaping that doesn’t require irrigation, and heating and cooling provided by heat pumps fed by 60 geothermal wells dug beneath the parking lot.

Many of the building’s windows are also covered in tiny gray dots called ceramic frit that reduce solar heat gain while still letting in the view from outside.

Most of the building’s floors are long-lasting, easy-maintenance terrazo — chips of marble, quartz, granite and other materials, locked in place with a cement binder.

And the building features a custom ceramic mural created by students of Dearborn’s four high schools, and a historic narrow-gauge train display provided by The Henry Ford.

The project won honorable mention in this year’s ESD Design & Construction Awards. Sharing the honors with Neumann/Smith were designers SmithGroupJJR of Ann Arbor and constructors Clark Construction Co. of Lansing and Tooles Contracing Group LLC of Detroit.

ESD thanks Mike Kirk of Neumann/Smith for a fascinating tour.

Other upcoming ESD tours include the Wayne State University Advanced Technology Education Center in Warren Aug. 12,  the Oakland University Engineering Center in Rochester Aug. 20, and the Guardian Industries float glass plant in Carleton Aug. 27.  More at the links indicated or at www.esd.org.

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