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Rehab Expected Soon at UI’s Natural History Building

A building on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus that has hosted classes ranging from geology to zoology is close to getting a major renovation.

Built in 1892 by campus architect Nathan Ricker, the Natural History Building is on the National Register of Historic Places. But nearly half of the facility was shut down in 2010 after engineers found structural problems.

On Thursday, the U of I's Board of Trustees hired a construction company to complete $70-million worth of upgrades. The work is being paid for by local funds, including a deferred maintenance fee that students pay, as well as donations. Geology Professor Stephen Marshak said work may begin as soon as this summer, but requires alternate space for moving lots of research and teaching labs.

He said most of the building's interior bears little resemblance to the original design, and that's one of the goals of an architect. Marshak said in some cases, the building's appearance is worse than conditions in Lincoln Hall before upgrades started there.

"There's termite-eaten wood. There's places where the plaster is falling off the walls, and the paint is peeling off," he said. "The floors are wrinkled. The rooms are basically unusable, In fact, even now, even though we had to compact ourselves into the northern end of the building, there are large areas of the building that are not closed, but are just not occupied because they're unusable."

Marshak, who's also the U of I's Director of the school of Earth, Society, and Environment, said one goal is returning the building to its original design. He said the largest single addition was in 1908, which wasn't constructed properly.

"Then there was a third part that was built in 1924," Marshak said. "They were all built with the same design, so that the building looks fairly consistent, but if you look close, you'll see that there's slight differences in brick color and things like that. But what gives it its historic character is the original Ricker design."

The work still requires $11-million in funding. The goal for the Natural History Building is to be finished by fall of the 2015 at the earliest.

Categories: Education, History