Delicate Old Main Renovations on Track for 2014 Completion

Delicate Old Main Renovations on Track for 2014 Completion

By Amanda BallardUniversity Communications
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The renovation of Old Main, which is more than 120 years old, will help preserve its functionality for future generations of Wildcats.
The renovation of Old Main, which is more than 120 years old, will help preserve its functionality for future generations of Wildcats.
The Mountain Avenue circle north of the Student Union Memorial Center is also getting an update.
The Mountain Avenue circle north of the Student Union Memorial Center is also getting an update.

It's been six months since the construction fences went up around Old Main, but there is still plenty of work to be done before the project's slated deadline of next summer.

Construction and restoration work is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2014 with the building ready for occupancy for the fall 2014 semester. It is anticipated that the renovated building will house senior administrative offices and core student services. Local firm Sundt Construction Inc. is the design-builder for the project and the overall cost is budgeted for $13.5 million, which the University will cover with donated funds.

Peter Dourlein, assistant vice president for UA Planning, Design and Construction, said the biggest obstacles so far have been related to the fragile and sensitive nature of the building.

"We are working with a structure that over 120 years old and it is an extremely delicate and incremental process that requires patience and flexibility," Dourlein said of Old Main. "One has to carefully peel away layers and years of additions while seeking to preserve and reuse as much of the original building as possible." 

In addition to the construction on the building itself, there has been a lot of work happening in the surrounding area over the summer. Facilities Management performed structural maintenance on tunnels under the Mall that hold steam and water pipes, communications cabling and electric wiring. It built a new stage on the Mall near the Alumni Plaza. The asphalt roadway between Old Main and the Mall's grass panel is being replaced with colored concrete to visually connect Old Main with its "front yard" and create a more pedestrian-friendly pathway. On the Mountain Avenue circle north of the Student Union Memorial Center, the original decaying concrete is being replaced with a fresh layer of paving with brick bands that will offer a smoother surface for pedestrian and cars.

As more people return to campus for the start of the semester, Dourlein said significant efforts are being made to maintain safety during construction projects.

"Our primary concern is for the safety of people on campus at all times," Dourlein said. "We are also keenly focused on minimizing the impacts and inconveniences of construction."

Old Main, which serves as the heart of campus and is one of the UA's most recognizable icons, has undergone several updates since it was built in 1891. Most recently, the lower level and select structural elements were successfully updated in 2008. The new construction that was started this year will address the second floor and exterior verandas, which have protected Old Main from the elements but have succumbed to age and weather.

The renovation also will reverse moisture damage, decay, worn and cracked masonry columns, and unreinforced structures, Dourlein said. The systems that provide fire protection and heating, ventilation and cooling will be updated.

A few architectural surprises have been uncovered by workers during the renovation, Dourlein said.

"One of the more significant finds during the work at Old Main was that over the years dropped ceilings had been added in the second floor space to conceal the insertion of various systems," Dourlein said.  "We have found ways to install new systems into the original attic, allowing us to remove the false ceilings and restore the spaces to their original higher grandeur."

Old Main was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and the construction complies with the Secretary of the Interior's guidelines to keep it on the list.

A webcam outside the construction site has allowed members of the UA community to watch the renovation efforts happening in real time.

Renovating Old Main, Dourlein said, honors the building's history and extends its functionality for future Wildcats.

"Respecting and preserving the original historic character and fabric of the building while weaving in modern, energy efficient systems and sound structural reinforcing is challenging," Dourlein said. "However, our team has found terrific balance in addressing these issues."

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