April 10, 2011

Major Preservation Project Announced for McGraw Hall

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Correction appended

The 139-year-old McGraw Hall is scheduled to undergo a major preservation project beginning in the next few weeks, the University recently announced.

The project will stabilize the building’s exterior masonry, repair its roof and replace the gutter system — all of which are necessary in the face of aging and water damage, according to a University press release.

While some preparation work will begin in April, the roof replacement and facade restoration will begin after commencement on May 29.

No classes will be held in McGraw over the summer, and the Anthropology Collections in the McGraw Museum will be closed from April 15 until August 15, according to the press release.

Randy Lacey, associate director of Cornell’s department of Project Design and Construction, said that the improvements will not interfere with fall 2011 classes scheduled to be held in McGraw because “all work on the interior bracing of the building will occur over the summer.”

Prof. Holly Case, history, whose office is located in McGraw, said she was concerned for the safety of professors who work in the building.

“I was the only one in the building during one of the [ceiling] collapses, and even though they fixed it by the following day, it is something that has stayed in my mind,” Case said. “Thankfully, the professor in question was not in his office at the time, but if he had been he would have been hurt, at least.”

Case personally witnessed the three collapses, two of which occurred in faculty offices and one in a hallway, in which she said the ceiling “fell in on” the floor.

“By ‘fell in on,’ I mean ceiling tiles and other debris dropping down and crushing computers and the like — the kind of thing that, if the person had been sitting there at the time, would have seriously injured or potentially even killed said person,” Case said in an email to The Sun on May 12, 2010, after a ceiling collapse last year. “I went down to check it out — it is about one-third of his office ceiling, which landed on his computer table. It includes lights, with wires hanging down all around, etc.”

Case also said that she believes McGraw faces particular structural challenges, compared to other buildings on campus.

“The building was probably designed at a time when offices were larger and professors didn’t have a load of books,” Case said. “But especially in the history department, we have a ton of heavy books which I’m sure weighs on the structure of the building.”

Lacey emphasized that the proposed renovations to the building will only be temporary and that more permanent measures will eventually need to be taken to maintain the improvements.

“It is hard to say at this point when we will be able to complete a permanent preservation project,” Lacey said. “Because the whole University is getting tight fiscally, there is limited funding available for maintenance projects at this point.”

According to the University, the temporary bracing of the masonry construction will consist of an external steel frame, with steel rods passing through the facility to tie it together. The rods will use existing window openings to avoid disturbing the masonry.

This frame is expected to remain in place until a permanent renovation project begins at an unspecified date.

This preservation is Cornell’s Facilities Services’ second attempt to repair McGraw’s roof, Lacey said.

“There was an attempt to put a new roof on last summer, but when the project team got in there, they realized there were some structural issues with the walls that needed to be addressed to keep it from worsening,” Lacey said.

Case was skeptical of whether the smaller scale projects would be sufficient, but cited the current “economic crisis” the University is coping with as the reason behind why previous plans to preserve the building were never completed.

Lacey also noted that McGraw is the last of the three original stone buildings to be renovated. The other two buildings — Morrill Hall and White Hall — underwent preservation projects in 1973 and 2003, respectively.

Through a competitive bidding process, Project Design and Construction chose LeChase Construction to complete the improvements.

“They have done a lot of work on campus,” Lacey said. “Their experience is good and they are pretty reputable.”

Correction: A previous version of this article contained several errors. Although the initial story reported that the project is necessary to fix the structural deterioration of McGraw Hall, in fact the fundamental structure of the building is sound and the project is only necessary to stabilize the building’s masonry and replace its roof. Additionally, although a previous version of this article implied that the building has seen several roof collapses, in fact only sections of the building’s ceilings fell in a few offices.

Original Author: Liz Camuti