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Graduating to Green Where Blue Ribbon Was Brewed

School’s been out for the summer, but now college students are descending on two historic buildings in Milwaukee’s old Pabst Brewery complex, abandoned in 1996 but slowly coming back to life. Like the Brewhouse Inn down the street (see previous article) and the Best Place banquet hall around the corner, the two buildings--a student residence known as Eleven25 and the Zilber School of Public Health--are both classic examples of how to shed new light (literally) on a shuttered old factory.

Eleven25 is the newly transformed version of the 237,000-square-foot, fortress-like, three-story Pabst bottling plant. During renovation of the cream city brick structure, layer upon layer of lead-based paint was removed from the walls and arched ceilings that date back as far as 1889. Oversize windows were restored. A hundred years ago, Pabst workers could hardly have imagined the spiffed-up interior, where 150 student apartments overlook atriums carved out under the original skylights. The workers would have envied the students who, during their study breaks, will head for the in-house food court, fitness center, or movie theater, walking over the same concrete and hardwood floors that used to support hundreds of bottles of beer.

On the next block, the five-story School of Public Health, part of University of Wisconsin, began in 1919 as a hosiery plant even before it housed the Brewery’s fermentation tanks. Designers of the school, which opened in 2012, almost doubled the size of the original building by attaching an airy addition, for a total of 53,000 square feet. Bricked-up windows were unbricked to allow daylight back inside. A state-of-the-art HVAC system was installed and a new white reflective roof substituted for the old. A teaching kitchen on the first floor is decked out with a convection oven and other energy-saving appliances. The school is a stand-out: it is a LEED Gold-certified building in a LEED Platinum neighborhood.

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