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ON THE SCENE: Jim Edgcomb, designing the Conference Center

June 27, 2011
“Naj you have to write an article about Jim Edgcomb,” said Ann O’Leary to me last year.

Who is Jim Edgcomb?” you might ask.

Jim Edgcomb is the architect who stepped in when the bid’s for the architectural firm HNTB’s proposed design for the Lake Placid Conference Center came in at about $8 million over budget, and that was for their second design as their first proposal took a lot of heat in the local media. “It’s wonderful that it’s coming but it looks totally out of place, it’s too futuristic,” said Linda Jones to the News about HNTB’s initial design back October of 2006.

By April 2008 the process had ground to a halt, designs were incomplete, bids were high, and as a consequence of a long design process, less money was available to design and build a conference center. ORDA’s leadership decided to take a new approach, referred to as design-build, meaning that they design one task, say the demolition of the building, go out to bid on that, and while that process is going forward design and bid on the next phase. In the end, they had to speed up even that process which meant that when they started up again, there was no complete set of drawings of what the finished building would look like — they, if effect, were designing it as they went along.

This process may sound a little seat of your pants, but it really isn’t. On a smaller scale it is what painters do all the time. They start with a canvas, develop an overall sketch and then work on developing the details – putting in the sky, mountains, trees and other features as they go along. The key is to get the basic elements in place in their minds eye or sketched out on paper, from there they have a pretty good idea of where it will go making all manner of adjustments as they progress. Of course working on a project the scale of a conference center has many unknowns and unexpected factors, such as the economy, costs of materials, bids proposed by contactors and the weather to deal with, but the process is pretty much the same. Fortunately for ORDA Edgcomb is comfortable working that way, good at it in fact, and has a good understanding of the aesthetics of the region – when and where he can and cannot take people out of their comfort zone — and he was available.

Edgcomb received his masters from MIT in 1984, is a principal of the Design Group and Edgcomb Design Group, which are based in Warren, Vt., and has worked on a wide variety of residential, commercial, historic preservation and institutional projects over the years, which has included private homes, proposed parking decks and village center planning projects in Lake Placid.

“The program requirements and the site constraints, coupled with the budget, were hugely challenging,” said Edgcomb on Thursday. “But when I got back to developing the overall design it actually came together pretty quickly. I had to maintain as much as possible of the Lussi rink and to try to keep the mass and bulk of the building from overwhelming the site, while incorporating a lot of programming requirements such as the ballroom for 2000, a kitchen, the meeting rooms, the Visitors Bureau — requirements that added up to a lot of square footage. The decision to retain the Lussi Rink rather than demolishing the whole building for cost savings reasons required that you do certain things.”

“What is exciting about the design process is when the elements fall together. Things came together really well in this project, which doesn’t always happen. I was really pleased with the outcome. We had planned to take a design-build approach, but we were not able to do that in the end. I was ORDA’s in-house architect hired to administer the design, and ended up taking on the design itself. We started developing the designs in May, delivered the concrete drawings in June, and then shifted to designing steel for the structure as they were pouring. They were building the building before it was even finished being designed. It was incredibly challenging logistically. The only way to meet the schedule was to take this approach. It was amazing that ORDA managed to hang on to the money. Ted Blazer and Bob Hammond deserve huge credit for that, and Jan Kibben did a Herculean job as the construction manager. She is the unsung hero. We were actually under budget until the state put a hold on all construction.”

“I love the look of the building. I love the layout of it. I think it flows well. I think it fits the site really well. I get excited about the look and feel of it. I think it meets the program requirements. I think it does all that we wanted it to do as a conference center. I love the buildings relationship to the street. I like the way it engages the village, the way it speaks to the village and they way the village speaks to and is reflected in it.”

“Like how it picks up the stone work from the Adirondack Church?” I said.

“Yes, exactly. I think it relates to the Olympic character and to the village’s character – the character of the region and materials, perhaps in a new way.”

“Jim brought to the project the perspective of knowing what we had gone through with the project, having worked on other projects in the area, and he had a nice feel about what we were looking for,” said ORDA CEO Ted Blazer. “The budget was a challenge. He had to create a multi-use facility that would be appealing. In the end the costs came in very favorable so that we were able to add in some amenities that helped make it a bit more attractive and appealing. I like the way he used stone and glass to reflect the area and to allow people to look in. I feel it is very inviting. It also different from and complimentary to the 1932 and 1980 buildings, it brings in some of the natural materials.”

“Jim Edgcomb has made a very significant contribution from the day he stepped in on the job,” said ORDA board member Serge Lussi. “He is very professional and very pleasant to work with. He has done a very good job. I like the way the building looks. It’s spectacular – and it came under budget.”

Article Photos

Jim Edgcomb

Photo/Naj Wikoff



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