The University of Arizona’s most historic and iconic building is getting a $13.5 million makeover.
Old Main, located in the heart of the university’s 40-acre campus, has seen its fair share of changes since being established in 1891, when it housed 32 students.
The project comes not long after discussions that the building might need to be demolished due to its deteriorating condition and a lack of funds for repair.
“Sometime in 2012 we realized that we really needed a major renovation,” said Rodney Mackey, associate director of planning, design, and construction at the UA. “The thing that crossed our minds was we either save her or we lose her.”
Thanks to the Save Old Main Campaign launched last October, $3 million, or nearly 25 percent of the needed funding has been achieved.
Consequently, the renovations began in January, and are estimated for completion by July in a cooperative effort between Sundt and architect Corky Poster of Poster Frost Mirto Inc.
Poster said while some areas of the building are in dire need of repair or replacement, others that remain in good shape will stay intact to preserve the building’s history.
“For me, as someone working on the building’s design, my thoughts go to the original architect and what the purpose and thoughts were of the architect when the building was first designed,” said Poster.
The location of Old Main is one important consideration that helped Poster determine how the new building design should flow.
“If you picture the University of Arizona as a solar system, Old Main is the sun,” said Poster. “It’s at the center of this university, and everything physically revolves around it.”
Because the building is an area of high foot traffic that connects the old and new areas of campus, it will serve some of the university’s most vital functions. The first floor will house student services, including recruitment, enrollment, admissions, and campus visits and tours.
The second floor will house staff offices. The updated floor plan will also provide increased public space, allowing room for university seminars, workshops, and meetings.
During construction, a number of historic discoveries have been stumbled upon, including several wood blocks that when placed together reveal the original developer’s name, reading, “M.J. Sullivan, Carpenter & Builder.”
That and other historic elements will likely be displayed in the hallways of Old Main.
With a move-in date of August, much of the construction is already near completion. In addition to more modern architecture that will adhere to improved fire protection, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, Old Main will also see restoration of the roof, veranda, columns and retaining walls.
“The university is investing in the restoration and reconstruction of Old Main to restore the building to its rightful prominence,” said Mackey. “This adaptation will be accomplished fully respecting the historic character and fabric of the original building while creating modern function and safety and significantly extending the building’s useful life.”
This is not the first time rumors had circulated that Old Main would be shut down. In 1938, the building’s interior was deemed unsafe and condemned by a city inspector, forcing students to relocate from Old Main to other campus buildings. Four years later, with World War II under way, the federal government provided $89,000 in rehabilitation money, rescuing the building and marking it for use as the U.S. Navy Indoctrination School.
By 1953, R.O.T.C. had taken over most of Old Main. Two decades later, Old Main was selected to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building saw continued renovations in 1987, when the first floor underwent remodeling for administrative offices and tutoring services, and in 2006, when further improvements were made to allow admissions and orientation offices to move into the building.
For information on donating to the project, visit www.saveoldmain.org.