Renovation not always best value

William Evans

The buildings on this campus animate a story of a university that has evolved from a military school to a bastion of segregation, and now, to a modern research-oriented institution.

The University preserves the buildings that have withstood the test of time so as to lend an aura of tradition to the campus, but that policy is in stark contrast to its treatment of the older residence halls that are perceived as expendable due to their lack of historical or architectural significance.

“If a building is historically significant or has great architectural impact to the campus, we certainly look to restore those types of buildings,” said Dan Wolfe, University planner. “Rose Towers obviously wouldn’t fall into that category.”

With the student body surpassing 30,000, living space for students is a chief consideration in designing the campus master plan.

Rose Towers, scheduled to be demolished in the summer of 2012, is disposable because residence halls, even honors dormitories, are not designed to be permanent fixtures of campus.

“More than likely, when the Riverside residential community becomes older, because they’re frame construction, they probably won’t be renovated,” Wolfe said. “My guess is that they’ll probably be taken down and replaced, but historically significant buildings, or buildings around the Quad or buildings that add to the architectural beauty of the campus get renovated.”

Byrd, Wilson and Parker-Adams have already disappeared as student living quarters to accommodate for an expansion in sorority housing behind the President’s Mansion.

“They were old, they were antiquated, they had outlived their usefulness, and renovation really wasn’t a good option on those,” Wolfe said.

The historical significance, not age, of a building determines its desirability to the University.

The oldest four buildings on campus that predate the Civil War will likely never be replaced, Wolfe said.

Gorgas House, Maxwell Hall, the Round House next to Gorgas Library and the President’s Mansion all survived the engulfing flames set to campus in 1865 by the Union troops, he said.

All of the construction and demolition set in place by the campus master plan to tailor the campus to a growing student body should not lead people to believe that the University is trigger-happy with the wrecking ball.

Renovating an older building may be more cost-effective from a construction standpoint than tearing it down.

“If you look at a Graves Hall or a Lloyd Hall, those buildings have been totally renovated,” Wolfe said. “Lloyd Hall still looks exactly the same on the outside, but instead of an old chemistry building on the inside, it’s now a state-of-the-art classroom building, and Graves Hall is a state-of-the-art classroom building as well for the school of education.”


Wolfe offered Russell Hall as an example of a future renovation.

“Russell Hall is an unappealing building the way it is, but because of its location on University Boulevard, it doesn’t make sense to tear it down,” he said. “It’s a good building, it can be restored, so what we’re going to do is put a new face on it so the architecture does blend with our campus.”

Tim Leopard, assistant vice president for construction, said the decision to renovate involves a number of factors that would dissuade the University from building anew.

Historical significance, adaptability to new structural codes, architecture that is constituent with the campus and land use all come into play.

The cost-effectiveness of renovation is also a key consideration from a construction standpoint.

“With respect to renovation versus demolish and rebuild, ‘cost-effective’ means balancing the cost of building a new building with selective demolition and renovation, plus any premium cost to bring the building up to current structural systems,” he said in an emailed statement. “All things being equal, a renovation will typically save money, given that you are not building a new skin and structure. If the skin or structure requires significant work, then the cost will usually not balance out.”

Appearances matter to the University, because successful recruitment of new students is in part dependent on the beauty of the campus.

“All those that visit with expectations of attending UA, as well as other distinguished guests, are affected by the appearance of the campus,” said Mike Spooner, the building envelope manager who rids older buildings of grime and grit that accumulate over time.

Spooner applied an environmentally friendly cleaning agent to Denny Chimes, for instance, to aid in restoring the prominent symbol.

Years of weather had allowed water to seep into the exterior, causing extensive deterioration.

“The historic buildings, restored and maintained, speak volumes to the intent of the administration to preserve and protect tradition, integrity and heritage exemplified by UA,” he said.