Historic halls will get face- lift with U plan

by Nancy Ngo

In efforts to erase a backlog of deteriorating buildings without compromising the University’s historic appearance, school officials will soon put forward new renovation guidelines.
The guidelines, which top administrators are still refining, would put limitations on what can be done to fix buildings. Such parameters include how modern some old structures could be made.
But the campus face-lift hinges on the University’s $249 million capital budget request to the Legislature. After months of revisions and preparation, University President Mark Yudof presented the request to the House Higher Education Finance Division on Wednesday.
The request marks the school’s first major step toward historical building maintenance and renovations.
In past bonding requests, University officials appropriated 70 percent of the money to new building projects and 30 percent to renovations. This request reverses that trend, Yudof said.
If the request is granted, the University will focus attention on the Northrop Mall area as well as other places on campus deemed important by University architects and administrators. The St. Paul campus lawn area and surrounding buildings — Coffey, Agricultural Engineering and Haecker halls — would also get make-overs.
The Historic Preservation Plan would provide past information on campus buildings to serve as guidelines for further adaptations.
“Maintaining has always been a regular thing, but now there will be a formality to it,” said James Litsheim, a University architect.
School architects consulted with the State Historical Preservation Office for advice on developing internal guidelines.
Dennis Gimmestad, compliance officer of the state’s preservation office, said he has been working for several years to develop the Historic Preservation Plan.
“This will perform a useful function in the future, otherwise there would be no maintenance and care,” he said.
In addition to the preservation plan, architects had to make sure plans for building maintenance would be compatible with Yudof’s direction to both preserve the school’s past and bring it into the 21st century.
Merging the two concepts would be apparent in buildings such as Walter Library, which would be transformed into a digital technology hub. The proposal calls for renovations on the 75-year-old structure and construction of a small addition on the building’s west side.
Don Kelsey, facilities planning officer for University Libraries, called Walter Library “the single most troubling fire and life safety building on campus.”
University officials planned to renovate the building for the past eight years, but previous drawings did not include the digital technology center.
Kelsey said combining the facilities in one building would enhance both of the services provided while restoring a historic space –incorporating renovation with new technology.
“We’ve made it workable,” Litsheim said.