The Challenge of Delivering a Great Headquarters for a Small Credit Union

A highly functional and performance-oriented headquarters is an impactful asset for a credit union. It will help the credit union stand out in the community, re-energize the organization and brand with a sense of pride and purpose, and function as a recruiting tool to retain and attract the best of the best employees.

Yet there’s a common misconception that this is an expensive initiative only available to the big players.

RiverFall Credit Union in Tuscaloosa, Alabama proved that this isn’t the case. Keep reading to learn the challenges they faced, how we helped the credit union overcome them, and the results that a $120MM (currently $165MM) credit union was able to achieve.

Downtown Tuscaloosa Alabama (think ‘Bama Football and Coach Saban) was experiencing a renaissance, a university town seeing a boom in population and the business community. RiverFall Credit Union had an ideal downtown location that stood out… but not in a favorable way.

(See the RiverFall Credit Union Headquarters Case Study for more photos.)

The Challenge

The 1960s building was beyond its useful life and had formerly housed a savings and loan. HVAC and electrical systems were inefficient and beyond repair. Entrances, stairways, and restrooms weren’t ADA compliant or accessible. There wasn’t an efficient way to attach a functional drive-up on the long, narrow urban site. The building envelope needed to be replaced, and there were significant hazmat issues in terms of asbestos and lead paint, as well as other encumbrances and challenging conditions on the site.

Additionally, the building was designed for work performed in the 1960s. Though the building was originally built by a savings and loan, the work that financial institutions do has dramatically changed. Workflows have shifted from individual task-based actiivities to more dynamic, project focused collaborative work. Layouts from buildings of the era just aren’t adequate to support the future of work.

The project was beyond the scope of a comprehensive renovation, as preliminary estimates placed the cost of an extensive renovation at around 85% of the cost of a new building, and the renovation wouldn’t have addressed all of the design requirements associated with a high-performance workplace.

Yet, there was a shining star, as the site was the greatest asset, it being in a prominent downtown location, with both new properties, and newly renovated properties surrounding the credit union. Throw in the requirement that we needed to develop the new headquarters while the RiverFall team was still working in the existing building, and you have quite a story.

The Site

Momentum was able to develop a plan for replacing RiverFall Credit Union’s former headquarters within their budget, not only enabling the credit union to continue their commitment to downtown Tuscaloosa, but to deliver an industry-leading workplace and retail branch to the community.

We approached the site as a green field site; essentially “what would we design if there were no encumbrances and restrictions?”. “How could we design the site and building to support all of the credit union’s objectives, including efficient drive-through traffic flow, ample parking, and delivering a building that effectively supports RiverFall’s staff in their need to work in a highly engaging and collaborative work environment, creating a workplace of the future?”

Our solution was to place the building at the corner of the lot where two primary business corridors intersected. This not only enabled the efficient use of remote head-on drive-thru, parking spaces were maximized, and the design allowed the building to be placed in a highly visible location, The building also serves as RiverFall’s flagship branch, and the two new retail branch facilities that we also developed for the credit union, embody many of the design elements from the new headquarters as well.

The existing building was tucked away in the center of the lot, where the new parking lot was proposed. The building remained standing and fully operational throughout construction, and we rented an adjacent site for construction materials staging and our field office, to minimize disruption on the tight site. Once the new building was operational, all employees were moved and the old facility was demolished in a matter of days, so that the balance of the site could be developed, including the drive-thru.

There was one major issue that arose, and that was the discovery of unregistered fuel tanks (UST’s)  that had been buried on site in the 1960’s. Additional research into the history of the property confirmed that the city had installed the UST’s, and we worked with RiverFall and the city to perform an abatement that was under the jurisdiction of a state funding agency. Close coordination with the agency ensured that neither the overall project schedule, nor the completion of the building was impacted.

Workplace Innovations

The alignment meetings and an on-site design charrette with Momentum’s design team clearly revealed that the existing building would not support collaboration, departmental growth and wellness in the workplace.

The new workplace was also designed to support a collaborative workflow, while also addressing a seamless growth plan where departments expand and adjust as the credit union adapts to banking trends and demands. There are both assigned departmental workspaces, as well as unassigned collaborative and private focus areas. ABW, better known as activity based work, is a primary driver of the modern workplace and RiverFall envisions their space to be able to adapt to a variety of work and economic conditions. A large and accessible meeting space that can be divided, accommodates large meetings and training sessions, but when not in use by employees, it is available for the community to use as well.

“No one in the area has the facilities and layout that we have. If RiverFall can handle its portion as well as Momentum a did their part, we’ll do well,” said Gregg Sassaman, Former CEO of RiverFall Credit Union.

Modern Branch

A more open layout designed around teller pods and a transition away from a traditional staffing model reflects, RiverFall’s focus on making the member experience as smooth and convenient as possible. The former teller lines created a wall between the members and those helping them, but new Member Service Associate stations and supplemental ITMs create an environment where the members and staff are sharing the same space and can communicate more naturally.

This layout, combined with remote drive-up technology, makes it easier for staff to handle a wide range of needs very seamlessly, while providing ADA accessibility for members and staff alike.

“It gives us much more versatility and therefore more efficiency. We have a much more engaging, circular retail environment,” said Sassaman.

On-demand “hotel offices” complement the more open design and give the staff even more flexibility in where they choose to work. Where traditional offices once wasted space when idle and not in use, hotel offices give any staff member the opportunity to sit down with a member in private, allowing a more personalized offering, with one-on-one attention for more consultative services.

The Outcome

The result was overwhelmingly positive feedback from the credit union and members of the community. Members love the new branch and the convenient access and personalized service it provides, and the headquarters branch is the credit union’s busiest branch. Employees agree that the new workplace environment better supports their work, and they feel more comfortable and effective in the space. The community room ended up being a big hit with the local business community…“You have one of the best meeting sites in town.” said Jim Page, president of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.

Since the transformation, RiverFall’s once flat growth has taken off and the credit union has seen a cumulative growth approaching 40% in the years since the grand opening.

(See the RiverFall Credit Union Headquarters Case Study for more photos.)

Momentum was a game changer for us,”said Sassaman.

Learn More

To learn more about how we reliably deliver complex projects like this, check out our Learn the Process blog series. And reach out to us today via the button below to start a conversation about your next project!
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