Columbia plans for improvement

By CiaraShook

Columbia has enrolled students since the late 19th century, when most of the campus’s buildings were built. While the college continues to age, the Office of Campus Environment and the Office of Facilities and Operations works to preserve buildings that accommodate students, faculty and staff while maintaining their historical prestige.

Columbia is teaming with Gensler Architects this summer for exterior restorations of the South Campus Building, 624 S. Michigan Ave., and the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave. This is part of a project to restore several buildings on campus, which will span approximately four years and will also include the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., the 11th Street Campus Building, 72 E. 11th St. and the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building.

According to John Kavouris, associate vice president of Facilities and Construction, this project, referred to as the “masonry restoration program,” will cost approximately $7 million.

Restorations to the South Campus Building and the Alexandroff Campus Center alone will cost anywhere between $3 million and $4 million. The other three buildings will be repaired within the next three to four years.

“We have a responsibility to make sure the buildings are in good, safe, working order,” said Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment.

Kavouris said because both buildings are recognized as part of the Historic Michigan Boulevard District by the Landmark Division of the Department of Planning and Development of the city of Chicago, it is important the exteriors of the buildings are not significantly altered. Because of this, Gensler is working to maintain the original appearances of these buildings.

Heidi McClenahan, architect for Gensler, said changes to the facades will include replacing the cornice on the Alexandroff Campus Center—crowning ornamental elements that line the top of the building. Other repairs produced by general weathering of the building will also be included in the process.

“The buildings are clad in various materials, and over time the materials degrade and come loose,” Kavouris said.

Though these repairs will not be LEED certified, McClenahan said all materials removed from the buildings will be recycled, if possible. This reflects Gensler’s and Columbia’s shared principle of keeping the environment in mind during the construction process.

“We found the original drawing [of the Alexandroff Campus Center] at the Chicago History Museum,” McClenahan said. “We have been working with [the Landmark Division] and we’re proposing to put back a profile that is more to the original profile we found than just repair what’s there.”

The Historic Michigan Boulevard District extends along Michigan Avenue, from Randolph Street to 11th Street. According to the Landmark Division’s Web site, this area reflects Chicago’s development as a lakefront metropolis during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

McClenahan said because these buildings have landmark status, any work done on the facades must be approved by the Landmark Division. Because the buildings’ appearances must stay true to the original designs, officials from the Landmark Division will be on-site throughout the construction process to approve samples before any work is done.

“We’re working hard with the city to make sure the work is being done correctly,” she said.

The two buildings slated for repairs this year were built at the beginning of the 20th century, both by the late architect Christian A. Eckstorm, who was known for his industrial designs.

The South Campus Building was originally recognized as the Torco Building, which initially housed Torco Motor Oil before Columbia acquired it in 1991. Before Columbia purchased the Alexandroff Campus Center in 1974, the building was known as the Harvester Building because it was originally the headquarters of the International Harvester Company.

Construction on these facades are slated to begin after Manifest on May 17, according to Berg. Restorations to the South Campus Building and the Alexandroff Campus Center are expected to wrap up toward the end of the 2010 calendar year.

“[The restoration process] has already started, but people will notice things happening right after graduation,” Kavouris said.