The mechanics of restoration: An interview with Mark Nussbaum

Restoring Unity Temple is quite a job, but we’ve been lucky with many aspects of the restoration.

Our roots in Oak Park home mean that we’re surrounded by members of our congregation and friends in our community who know and understand the historical importance of Unity Temple.

We also have a number of people who are really knowledgeable about the building. Many members of the restoration team have been working with Unity Temple for years.

Mark Nussbaum, the mechanical engineer for the Unity Temple restoration. (Photo credit: Evanston History Center web site)

Mark Nussbaum, the mechanical engineer for the Unity Temple restoration. (Photo credit: Evanston History Center web site)

Mark Nussbaum is one of the members of our restoration team, and he’s been working with the building for many years.

His bio on the Evanston History Center site says that he’s a “mechanical engineer who specializes in the preservation, restoration and adaptive reuse of historic buildings.”

For Unity Temple, he’s leading the project to update our heating, cooling and water systems, including the main core of that project – our migration to a geothermal heating and cooling system.

A geothermal system will use the deep earth temperature to circulate hot and cool air, as well as produce hot and cool water. According to Nussbaum, the system will heat water to 120 degrees and chill it to 44 degrees.

Another goal of the new system is minimizing and managing humidity on interior walls. If exterior walls are kept warm, that warmth drives moisture to the outside.

“Interior moisture definitely played a role in some of the external damage that we saw here [at Unity Temple],” he explained.

The geothermal system has been in the works for a number of years; Nussbaum was part of a 2004 feasibility study to see whether such a system could be implemented.

It’s been years of investigating, planning and researching, and figuring out how all the pieces fit together.

“The mechanical parts [coming together] is a big component of our work,” he said.

Nussbaum and his team are also working on other mechanical elements.

“We will be providing a new electric service to the building, and will rewire everything,” he said. “All the historic fixtures will be rewired, to be brought up to UL code (a standard for electric safety).”

The lighting throughout Unity Temple will be connected to a central lighting control, with the capability to adjust and dim lights in different spaces. Lamps will be fitted with LED bulbs.

The team will also be installing a new fire alarm system, and will add several exit signs. Nussbaum said that the signs will be added in the most discreet manner possible, in a way that will be subtle but still clearly mark exits and meet safety codes.

Plumbing is another key element, with additional storm drainage and some modern piping added to the building for bathrooms and the kitchen. (Renovation of the kitchen is part of a separate project.) The classic restroom fixtures will remain.

Nussbaum explained that opening our spiritual home to tours was a big impetus for looking at elements like exit signs, to ensure that people unfamiliar with our space will be able to safely find an exit.

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