By Chris Pugh
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 33 - June 18, 1998
A December 1997 fire that damaged all three floors of the Architecture Annex has prompted more renovations than anticipated, according to a university facilities official.
Mark Helms, capital-outlay project engineer, said the fire damage revealed other areas that needed to be upgraded to comply with current fire codes.
"When the fire marshal went through the building, her first comments were that now that we were in the building making changes, other things needed to be changed as well." Helms referred specifically to wall coverings, paneling and doors that would have met fire standards in the 1960s when the building was last re-modeled, but were not in compliance with current regulations. Electrical upgrades were also made to the building, Helms said.
"We've changed paneling, doors, and added a fire alarm system to the building," Helms said. In addition to fire-code violations, there was a "minimal" amount of asbestos that needed to be removed. Lead, once used in paints, was a "minor issue" as well, Helms said. Termite damage was found in some rooms.
Fred Weaver, director of Risk Management, said the additional projects did not significantly affect the budget for repairs. "We had some code issues, " Weaver said, "but that's to be expected." The renovation budget was set at $250,000 with a total of $800,000 provided by the insurance company to cover renovation, replacement of equipment and fixtures, and the cost of temporarily relocating university employees and students during the construction.
Several groups of faculty and staff members have already returned to the building with the rest expected to be back in the facility by mid-June, Helms said. "We are at the point of moving a room at a time."
Helms was pleased with the renovations. "You'd have to have seen the old building to appreciate the improvements," he said. "We've gone from a situation where the folks using the existing building thought it should have been condemned to them thinking `Oh my gosh, now someone will try to take this away from us.'" Helms said "In terms of satisfying the customer, I think we have done that. I think we'll all walk away when we are finished and smile
"The building is a big improvement," agreed Ben Johnson, professor of landscape architecture. "I think Physical Plant has done a marvelous job. Mark, in particular, has done a great job coordinating people and getting us back in here."
The departments of Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP) and Landscape Architecture have been back in the building since late April, Johnson said. Furniture for faculty offices is being assembled now with "probably another month of work" left on the building, Johnson said.
Helms estimated that the Architecture Annex was built in 1916 and used as a public school until the 1960s when Virginia Tech took over the building.
The Dec. 16, 1997 fire destroyed the first floor of the three-story building including a room where award-winning student designs were kept. Parts of the second and third floors were also damaged. The cause of the fire was determined to be a faulty electrical phone switch.