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Nov. 11, 2010 Volume 32, No. 12

MU breaks new ground with academic hall renovations

Switzler 1

INSIDE JOB Until the new concrete floors and support columns are installed, Switzler Hall is being supported by a complex system of cables and struts. Renovation of Switzler, on the northwest corner of Francis Quadrangle, is scheduled to be completed in time for classes next fall. The building will be outfitted with new mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, and a small addition on the southwest side of the building will provide four additional classrooms. Photo courtesy of Campus Facilities -Communications


Sustainability, stewardship will guide future projects

For the past couple decades, American colleges and universities have been engaged in something of an arms race by constructing new, state-of-the-art residence halls, student centers and research facilities to attract the best students and brightest faculty to their campuses. 

Those days are over, says Gary Ward, associate vice chancellor for facilities at the University of Missouri. The next building boom in higher education, he says, will be tackling buildings that are at the heart of the public university’s academic mission but, because of budget constraints, have been neglected for years.

 “It’s not going to be the new big buildings,” Ward says. “It’s going to be taking care of the existing space.”

At MU, more than 30 core academic buildings are in need of renovation, at a projected total cost of $507 million. Work on two of those buildings, Tate and Switzler halls, began this year, thanks to $19 million in bond revenue approved by the UM Board of Curators in June 2009. 

Both buildings have been gutted and will be outfitted with new mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, along with new fire and security systems. The projects will also address the university’s critical need for more educational space. A total of 270 classroom seats and 30 faculty offices will be added in the two buildings, which should be ready for classes next fall.

The Tate and Switzler projects clearly excite Ward, who has been at MU since August 2005. Switzler Hall, a four- level brick structure built in 1871, is the second oldest building on campus — only the Chancellor’s Residence is older — and MU’s oldest classroom building. The four-story brick-and-stone Tate Hall, built just east of Jesse Hall in 1927, is named for Lee H. Tate, a graduate of the MU Law School who died in World War I.

Under most circumstances, the best approach might have been to tear down both aged buildings. Ward says that was never an option. “This is Mizzou,” he says, “and we have to preserve the iconic structures we have.”

For that reason alone, Tate and Switzler might represent the two most important projects of Ward’s tenure at MU. But he also saw an opportunity to establish a new model based on sustainability and financial stewardship that will guide future renovations.

He started by asking architects to submit their qualifications electronically. That lowered the cost of preparing a proposal and shortened to two weeks a selection process that typically took about nine months. Ward also brought in a construction manager to work closely with the architect and to build a team that could deal quickly with any challenges that might arise.

That strategy has paid off in Switzler, which, according to construction manager Robert Young, involves “building a building inside of a building.” The $7 million project required tearing out the wood floors, joists and beams that, in essence, kept the building from collapsing on itself. Until the new concrete floors and supporting columns are installed, the 130-year-old building is held together by an intricate system of cables and struts that make the interior resemble something from the drawing board of M.C. Escher.

“That system of tension rods is something I have never seen in my career, and no one around here has done that before,” Ward says. “There was no way that building could fall down, so it was great to have the contractor working with the architect and the structural engineer to come up with that idea.”

When deciding how to finish the buildings, Ward thought like a taxpayer — or a tuition-paying parent. He chose the same color and design schemes for both projects, opting for simple building materials that can be purchased at any big-box, do-it-yourself store. That lowered the cost of the materials, as well as the cost of transporting them to campus. As Ward put it, “I didn’t want anything from Europe or that had to be put on a boat to get here.” 

Indeed, the only hint of ostentation will be a little terrazzo in Tate, to make the floor more durable. Otherwise, the materials symbolize Ward’s overall goal with the Tate and Switzler renovations — to maximize scarce resources and deliver buildings that, above all, further MU’s academic mission.

“These will not be the type of buildings that will win design awards,” he says. “What we want is for our faculty and staff and students to say, ‘This is a really cool building, it’s really good to be in here.’ 

“But they are not going to be on the cover of Architectural Digest.”