Historic halls prepare to receive new amenities

by Jake Weyer

When renovations of two buildings are done in fall 2006, officials hope the University will have a new admissions office, language lab, writing center and home for two academic departments.

In 2004, Nicholson and Jones halls will be emptied for major renovation. Work on Jones Hall is scheduled to begin in spring or summer, and the Nicholson Hall renovation will begin in February or March.

The renovations will cost $32 million. They represent the University’s increased interest in renovation projects throughout the Twin Cities, Morris, Crookston and Duluth campuses. In recent years, University capital requests for renovation projects have surpassed requests for new construction. Seventy-three percent of the money the University plans to request from the state through 2008 will go toward the renewal of existing campus buildings, and 27 percent will go toward new buildings.

Nicholson and Jones halls are both registered historic buildings, and while planners want to bring them up to date, they say the buildings will not lose their historic look and feel.

Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services, said the University owns 24 million square feet of building property across the state – 20 million of which is on the Twin Cities campus. Of about 240 buildings on the Twin Cities campus, more than 100 are more than 50 years old.

O’Brien said University renovations have increased because of the need to upgrade classrooms, facilities and furnishings to strengthen student experiences and meet rising health, safety and technology standards.

“Students spend most of their time in the classroom,” O’Brien said. “Our needs are defined by the needs of our academic programs.”

Nicholson Hall currently houses classrooms and offices. The University plans to make the building a home for the College of Liberal Arts writing center and the departments of cultural studies and comparative literature, and classical and Near Eastern studies, said Robert McMaster, CLA associate dean for planning.

Two sections of Nicholson Hall, added after the original building was constructed, might be demolished, McMaster said.

Nicholson Hall was constructed in 1890, with additions in the 1920s and 1940s. The building was originally built as the chemistry building, but it later served as the men’s union.

During World War II, Nicholson Hall was called the USS Minnesota because it was commissioned by the government as a training ground for electricians’ mates, senior architect James Litsheim said. The men were housed and fed in the building.

Much of Jones Hall is currently unused, McMaster said, but the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture occupies some of the space. The University plans to turn the second floor of the building into the new admissions office. The office is currently in Williamson Hall.

Jones Hall will also house the University’s language lab, which presently resides in Folwell Hall.

Jones Hall was constructed as the physics building in 1901.

Nicholson Hall, Jones Hall and other nearby buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, Litsheim said. Buildings are added to the register based on criteria such as whether anything important happened in the building, whether a master architect designed the building, or the building’s age.

Kolthoff Hall, which is about 30 years old, is also scheduled for renovation, and construction in the area is already taking place.

Though their historic appearances will be maintained, both Nicholson and Jones halls will receive new air-conditioning and heating systems, and other up-to-date furnishings. Jones Hall will receive an elevator and a new staircase to comply with safety standards, said John Grundtner, director of the Department of Capital Planning and Project Management.

– Patricia Drey contributed to this report.