Haecker Hall completes three years of renovation

by Amy Olson

When University officials approached the Legislature three years ago for money to renovate Haecker Hall, the building had seen better days.
Animal science professor Marshall Stern said when University administrators led a team of visiting legislators through the building to convince them to fund the renovations, the legislators were astonished at its condition.
“They said, ‘You work here?'” Stern said. “They couldn’t believe it.”
That was in 1995. The Legislature approved funding for the $8 million renovation project, which gutted the building. Last September, the construction crews finished the project, which allowed the animal science department to move back in.
That extensive renovation project earned the University an award this month from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.
The nonprofit organization recognized 10 buildings around Minnesota in 1998, including the Milwaukee Road train station in Minneapolis and Hamm Building in St. Paul. The alliance also recognized four groups for preserving a variety of buildings ranging from individual homes to public buildings.
George Edwards, director of the alliance, said this is the first University building to be awarded for a renovation project.
The architects tried to retain the building’s character and 1920s style while updating it with equipment and amenities to support research, said Karen Kotval, a renovation committee member.
The hall was the first building for which the University approached the Legislature for funding, Kotval said. Last year, the Legislature allocated $206.8 million for University renovation projects.
Stern said professors helped design their lab space to accommodate each researcher’s needs. In addition to creating state-of-the-art facilities, the appropriations allowed the University to purchase new equipment.
“It’s kind of like holiday season,” Stern said, adding that he was even allowed to choose the color of the laminate covering the new tables in his fermentation laboratory.
Stern said the new facilities will support the high-quality research the department has conducted for years.
Alfredo DiConstanzo, an extension researcher and educator whose office and lab are in the building, said he hopes the new amenities will help attract graduate students who might have been turned off by old, unkempt facilities.
At one point, the building had deteriorated so badly the ceiling caved in over a cold storage unit in the building’s annex, Stern said.
“It wasn’t good,” Stern said.
The building’s technology upgrades included a multimedia education room which will be used for distance education classes and a lab of high-performance computers, which Stern said he hopes will improve the quality of genetics education.
The building’s new interior belies its age. Haecker Hall was constructed in 1923 to accommodate the growing University Farm — now called the St. Paul campus — and it is one of the older buildings remaining on the campus.
Although Haecker Hall was renovated in the 1960s, it lacked basic safety features, including an overhead sprinkler system. Construction crews also added an elevator, bringing the building up to disability and safety codes.
Stern said before the renovation, temperatures soared above 100 degrees on the hottest days during the summer, when researchers ran drying ovens to conduct their experiments. The project also added air conditioning, which will counteract that heat and better maintain sensitive equipment.
But professors and staff alike said the renovation was not completely pain-free.
In July 1997, the animal science department vacated Haecker Hall so asbestos removal could begin before crews gutted the interior. For 14 months, professors and staff shared offices and laboratory space with their colleagues in Peters Hall.
Although the moves were disruptive, they were worthwhile.
“It’s like starting over again,” Stern said. “I’m excited.”
Edwards said four University buildings — Nicholson, Wesbrook and Jones halls and the former YMCA building — were placed on the organization’s list of endangered buildings last year because the University proposed to demolish them.
Edwards said he hopes that listing drew attention to the deterioration of buildings, triggering the administration’s interest in restoring the buildings rather than tearing them down.
At the November Board of Regents meeting, University President Mark Yudof proposed to renovate Nicholson Hall and make it a center for freshman advising.