Completion puts end to problems

By Ken Goze

Completion of the Holmes Student Center reconstructon will put an end to many of the design problems that have plagued the building and led to its renovation.

NIU Project Manager Conrad Miller said the 16-floor student center was fitted with limestone panels because the bricks were falling away from the building as water seeped behind them and then froze.

“It was decided in a meeting with architects that brick is not suitable for a structure of that height,” Miller said.

Although other materials such as steel were considered, Indiana limestone was chosen for financial and cosmetic reasons. “The trend today (in architecture) is a move away from glass and steel and back to a more antiquated look,” Miller said.

In addition to providing proper drainage, the panels will allow for easier maintenance, Miller said. Unlike bricks, which are held together with mortar, the panels are anchored to the side of the building. The quarter-inch gap between the panels is then filled with a caulk-like sealant.

Miller said the sealant will eventually have to be scraped out and replaced, but the process will be easier and less costly than other maintenance techniques. “It (maintenance) will be easier for two reasons. One, because it (the sealant) is easier to work with than mortar; and two—a simple mathematical reason—there’s not nearly as many joints as with brick,” Miller said.

Miller said the new brown and bronze-tinted windows are more energy-efficient and will blend in with the building better than the old blue and white framed windows.

In addition to proceeding on schedule, the $2.4 million student center project has steered clear of major cost overruns.

The Board of Regents set a contingency budget of $117,400 in January of 1989. Miller said less than $30,000 of that money was spent, mostly for masonary repair after the brick was removed.

Miller said he attributes the low overrun in part to the experience of the project’s main contractor, J.P. Cullen, of Janesville, Wis., but added that luck also was a factor. “When you begin a project of this size, you never know what you will find,” Miller said.

In addition to solving the problems associated with brick, the new design of the student center also will eliminate other problems, such as the flooding of the rooftop air-conditioner recess. The new pyramid-shaped roof will keep rain out and provide ventilation through four louvered vents in and around the Student Center “penthouse.”

owever, the addition of a roof initially posed a problem by preventing access to the two massive air conditioners in the recess. Although one unit was replaced recently, both eventually will have to be replaced, requiring removal by helicopter.

Miller said the access problem was solved by adding steel beams to the structure, which will allow the air conditioners to be hoisted and pushed out the side of the penthouse.

Although television antennas were removed during construction, affecting reception in the residence halls, temporary antennas were installed. “We tried to make sure there was no disruption,” Miller said.

Residence Hall Association President Gail Colbert said the disruption was “very noticeable” in the residence halls, especially since most off-campus students receive cable service.

When construction is completed, two permanent antennas will be installed, Miller said. One antenna will face eastward to pick up Chicago stations, and the other antenna will point westward for reception of Rockford and Freeport stations.

However, Colbert said the disruption, which affected mostly Chicago stations, is more of a nuisance than a serious problem. “We can still get Chicago stations through Rockford. You just have to search for them,” Colbert said.