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UI Restores Charm to Historic Admin

UI architects work to bring back historic character of Administration Building through incremental projects

A department adds new doors. Another one puts up a wall. A few years later, a different department moves in and takes the wall back down.

And slowly, over time, the shape and feel of a space changes.

When that space is the University of Idaho’s Administration Building — one of the state’s most iconic structures — the result of those incremental changes becomes the loss of historic character.

Since 2000, UI’s Facilities department has been taking baby steps to bring that character back. This summer, thanks to money from the state’s Permanent Building Fund, the university is taking a big leap in renovating some of the Admin Building’s most grand spaces: The three-story main entrance staircase and the archways separating the hallways from the stairwell, as well as restoring some of the structure’s exterior.

Structural History

The UI Administration Building was built in the early 1900s. It replaced UI’s original four-story brick structure, which was completed in 1899 and destroyed in a fire in 1906. The current three-story Gothic structure was designed by Boise architect J.E. Tourtellotte and stands at approximately the same location as the original. The north and south wings were added around 1910 and 1918, respectively. Final expansion of the south wing was completed in the 1930s, and since then changes have been primarily internal as the building’s purpose evolved over time. The south wing was remodeled in the 1950s, and the auditorium was renovated in 1986.

The Administration Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, one of four UI-owned buildings on the register.

In the 1990s, the university made changes to meet safety codes, which included installing fire doors to segment the hallways from the central stairway, said Ray Pankopf, director of Architectural and Engineering Services at UI.

Installing historically accurate, raised-panel doors was expensive, and there was nothing requiring changes to the building be historically accurate, so cheaper industrial-style doors were installed. Emergency lighting also was added that didn’t match the building, Pankopf said.

“The project just spoke volumes to us about the need to establish standards so that when a department, a college, a private entity or the state funds a project, the elements of those projects are done in such a way that they are keeping in the character of the building,” he said.

In 2000, the university developed the Administration Building Preservation & Design Guidelines Master Plan. It offers a framework for code compliance, as well as gives guidance on lighting, finishes, furnishings and other design elements to keep within the historic context of the space.

The goal, Pankopf said, is not to restore the building in a strict preservationist sense, but to retain its sense of history while allowing for the needs of modern occupants.

“The intent of the master plan was to establish a set of guidelines and standards that tell architects, engineers and funding entities, ‘This is the standard to which the building needs to be restored,’” Pankopf said. “Even if all you’re doing is creating a closet and putting a door on, it has to be done to these standards.”

It’s a baby-steps approach, he said: “If we lost the character of the building over time, let’s establish a road map so we can gain it back, in time.”

The existing Administration Building was constructed in the early 1900s. This image shows the finished main hall and north wing around 1919. (Courtesy University of Idaho Library)

One Step at a Time

This summer’s project in the stairwell — like the project in the 1990s — hinges on current codes and safety issues. Safety standards require that gaps in the handrails on the stairs be no more than 4 inches. The current gap is much larger.

“You could pass a basketball through those rails,” Pankopf said. The university has received citations from the state’s Division of Building and Safety over the stairs, and has been wrestling with how to address the issue without degrading their historic look, Pankopf said.

In FY2015, UI received money from the state’s Permanent Building Fund to fix the stairs. And because the university now has a document specifying the requirements for building projects, the state approved enough money to make repairs in a historically appropriate manner, as well as restore other elements of the stairway. The project will cost about $1.3 million.

To increase the safety of the staircase, UI architects examined several different options, including adding filigrees or pickets to fill the gaps, or installing a cable railing inside the existing rail. All the options degraded the historic look of the stairs.

Instead, the university chose to install a new handrail with glass panels, offset about 3 inches from the existing railing. The glass handrail allows visitors to see the historic railing through the glass, evoking almost a museum-like feel.

“It was a huge design challenge,” Pankopf said. “This allows us to preserve the existing guardrail completely, with the hope that it’s transparent enough to where you can see the old one in an unaltered state.”

UI is also removing the industrial-style doors that were installed in the hallways in the ’90s. New building safety codes don’t require them, so the university is restoring the archways separating each wing from the stairwell on all three floors.

The stairs also will get new cast-iron treads, plaster and paint, and damage to the marble, terrazzo and wood flooring will be addressed. Closets on either side of the alcove on the second floor are being removed.

In addition, the university also will replace some of the light fixtures and bury the fire safety systems in the walls. The sprinkler system will also be expanded on the first and second floor of the building’s south wing. Repairs will be made to the mosaic located at the building’s north entrance, and a slanted cement step at that entrance will be replaced with granite.

The project will begin around the beginning of June, with completion around late October 2017. During construction, the front entrance of the Admin Building will be closed, though access tunnels on all floors will allow people to pass from one wing of the building to the other, and maintain access to the elevator and bathrooms.

This image, taken about 1910, shows the historic railing inside the Administration Building. UI is installing a glass railing to protect and preserve the historic handrail and improve safety. (Courtesy University of Idaho Library)

Exterior Restoration

It’s not just the inside of the Admin Building getting some attention this summer: UI is also going to be repairing and restoring some of the exterior masonry and stone. The state awarded UI about $1 million for FY17 from the Permanent Building Fund for that aspect of the project.

“This funding amount will likely not address all of the exterior repairs needed, but will provide a good start on any critical repairs and provide a road map for funding and executing additional repairs in the future,” said Guy Esser, UI project architect.

Exterior photography and mapping of the structure began in spring 2017, with the contractor even using drones to map the masonry and identify trouble spots. The architectural team and construction manager will use that information to identify a priority list for masonry repairs. Safety and structural issues will be repaired first, and any issues related to weather tightness or water infiltration in the building envelope addressed second. The final priority, but still very important to Facilities, is to start repairing and replacing many of the historical cast stone ornamentation on the building that has been degraded or damaged over the past 110 years, Esser said.

Among the Admin projects UI submitted for funding for FY18 were one to finish the HVAC system and another to address ceiling safety issues. There are also plans to do a minor renovation of the Auditorium in coming years, Pankopf said.

In addition, Facilities addresses maintenance concerns and minor projects as departments in the building request them.

As requests come in, each space gets put back to a more historic condition.

One step at a time.

Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing

Along with installing a new railing, this summer’s project will repair the marble and terrazzo floors and put in new cast-iron treads on the stairs.


University Communications and Marketing

Phone: 208-885-6291

Fax: 208-885-5841


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