Columbia Soil and Water Conservation District’s sustainable home at the Warren Grange.



The District bought the Warren Grange in 2010 after a two year search for a suitable property. Prior to purchasing the property the District looked at various properties in St. Helens area and hired local architecture firm AKAAN Architecture + Design LLC to perform a feasibility study to see if the historic structure could meet the District’s needs. In line with the Columbia Soil and Water Conservation District’s mission the District settled on the Grange building. Renovating an existing building inherently conserves natural resources by not requiring new natural resources (trees for lumber for example) to be harvested, processed, and transported to an undeveloped site for new construction. The District was drawn to the site because the property is large enough to allow the District to install demonstration gardens or other landscape features as education tools serving the District’s mission of providing education about soil and water conservation. Many of the other sites that the District considered did not have either water or sewer utilities, the McNulty Water District already served the Grange and a new sewer line from the City of St Helens had recently been installed along Millard Road. AKAAN Architecture + Design found that the Grange building, originally built around 1915 as the McNulty School, was in good sound condition, it needed to be renovated to meet current building codes and updated for the new use. Major elements that AKAAN incorporated into the building renovation are a new ADA ramp to access the lower level, an ADA wheelchair lift to access the upper level, a new emergency egress stair, as well as structural upgrades to meet current seismic requirements.

Following the District’s mission AKAAN, incorporated many sustainable design features into the project including a high efficiency heating system, wool building insulation, high efficiency light fixtures with occupancy sensors, an on-demand hot water heater, low flow plumbing fixtures, carpet made from 100% recycled rubber tires, resin wall panels made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, and other high recycled content flooring materials. After renovation began AKAAN determined that the existing wood floors in the upper level were in good shape so the floors were refinished rather than installing new flooring. The site will be landscaped following current best practices for soil and water conservation. The District is installing three “rain gardens.” Rain gardens are areas where the rain runoff is collected and stored to infiltrate into the underground aquifer rather than run off into streams and rivers. The rain garden is planted with native plants that can tolerate being flooded when the rain garden fills up with water. During high volume rain storms the plants in the rain garden naturally filter and treat the water of dirtand contaminates prior to it flowing into streams and rivers.


As with any renovation project the District faced some unexpected items during construction, some normal, some surprising. A three foot wide trench running the length of the building and hidden under the basement floor was not expected. Initially thought to be an old cistern, it was determined to be a forgotten method of keeping the basement dry. AKAAN developed a solution to retain the trench without doing extensive further alterations, allow for new plumbing to be installed, at little additional cost to the District. The District is very happy with their new home. AKAAN’s design respects the historic character of the building but adds new contemporary elements. Everyone that has toured the building loves AKAAN’s color scheme, on the exterior drawing from historic and natural colors, on the interior providing a warm and contemporary working environment for the District.