Local architecture firm Mills Group revitalizes downtown office building.
From scrumptious eateries to unique boutiques, High Street has lots to love. But sometimes Morgantown’s greatest treasures can hide behind a lackluster facade.
The Mills Group is changing that― not just by breathing life into an older building, but by calling it their home.
This fall, the architecture firm plans to open its new Morgantown office at 88 High Street. Folks might remember stocking up on paper and pens there when the mid-century modern building housed City Office Equipment. Others might have visited decades ago to pay their dues to the Hope Natural Gas Company. Where most saw an unimpressive block of windows, Mills Group founder Michael Mills saw potential. “This project is showing how adaptive reuse is important, and how it can be part of the larger context of revitalization,” Mills says.
Mills Group may be relocating from the Wharf District, but their original storefront office was on High Street. Now for the team’s homecoming, they were their own general contractors. “Even at the junior level, everyone has been involved not only with decision making and designing their own space, but also with helping demo and clean up,” Mills says.
The building certainly got a makeover as Mills Group added 20 percent more space overall. At first, eight steps divided the floor at street level into two sections, much like a split level house. The up-and-down travel wasn’t practical, so Mills Group raised one of the floors by four steps and transformed it into an open studio. They further beckoned it into the 21st century by dedicating an entire corner to virtual reality.
Beside the studio is the conference room. A conference room is an architecture firm’s heart, and Mills Group’s is beating strong. An angled glass tower added to the building’s High Street side grants clients a view up and down the avenue. If the conference room is the heart, the library is the brain. That is housed in the tower’s upper level, where downtown Morgantown serves as a backdrop for staff’s research. The top floor has offices as well, including a mini one for Mills’ black lab and office morale-booster, Ellie.
West Virginia will course through the building’s veins. Mills Group’s art collection by West Virginian artists will adorn the inside, and the lobby will feature a section of the original terrazzo flooring and a restored chandelier. For passersby, the Kirk Street exterior wall will showcase a mural illustrating the firm’s work throughout the state.
Mills Group received some funding through Main Street Morgantown’s Facade Program. Executive Director Barbara Watkins says revitalizing buildings creates a thriving downtown that can attract other businesses to the region. “We’re happy to have Michael come back and rehab a muchneeded building,” she says. “It can show other people what’s possible.”
“Designing on principles of the past and preserving for the future” is not just Mills Group’s mantra. Now it’s built into their very foundation.
Photographed by Nikki Bowman Mills