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Feature

Nicholson Hall.

Nicholson Hall from Pillsbury Drive on the east bank, Minneapolis.

The founders would be pleased: Nicholson construction begins in May

Nicholson construction begins in May

by Gayla Marty

From Brief, February 25, 2004; updated July 16, 2004

The University of Minnesota was a young 39 years old when Nicholson Hall was built for chemistry in 1890. After decades of wear and tear, protected by historic status but losing floors and wings to condemnation, Nicholson finally won capital bonding support in 2002. With plans to rehabilitate Nicholson Hall approved by the regents on February 12, bids will go out for construction in March. Late in 2005, Nicholson will join an emerging humanities district east of the historic knoll. The College of Liberal Arts plans to make Nicholson the new home of the Center for Writing, CLA Honors, and two academic departments--Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature (CSCL) and Classical and Near Eastern Studies (CNES). About a dozen new classrooms and seminar rooms will become available in time for spring semester 2006. "This is a proud moment," said CLA dean Steven Rosenstone. "We once feared that this historic building might come tumbling down. But thanks to a groundswell of community support, it will soon house a vibrant new learning community for our students. And another priceless campus landmark will be preserved for future generations." 114 years of history Nicholson Hall, known in U facilities language as Building 5, stands at the corner of Pillsbury Drive and Pleasant Street. In 1890, the three-story brick rectangle with heavy, stone-arched windows and doors joined Music Education (1888), Pattee (1889), Eddy (1886), and Pillsbury (1889) halls in the semi-circular drive off of the road to the capitol, University Avenue. The new building was named after a chemistry professor, Edward Nicholson, who later became dean of student affairs. In 1914, when chemistry moved to the first building on the new mall that spread to the south, a remodeled Nicholson become the men's union; the women's union was nearby, in Shevlin. In 1924-25, Nicholson expanded, with east and west wings added on the south side. Then in 1929, Northrop Memorial Auditorium opened on the mall behind Nicholson, facing the river. In 1940, the men's and women's unions both moved to the new, co-ed Coffman Memorial Union. A few years later, an auditorium was built into the U-shape between Nicholson's wings. Over the years, Nicholson housed classrooms, the bookstore, General College (1951-1989), international programs (1989-2000), Disability Services, a women's center, and computer labs. But gradually it fell into disrepair, plagued by heat, cold, mold, and fire hazards. Losing Nicholson, though, would have meant breaking up of the set of historic buildings around Pillsbury drive, and contending with the specter of Northrop's giant back side. For years, the University sought funds to restore Nicholson Hall. Finally in 2002, a capital bonding year, within a vision for undergraduate programs and a humanities district, Nicholson's rehabilitation was funded. "It was a hard fight, with many other capital projects competing for state dollars," said Rosenstone. "Without the ardent and very vocal support of our alumni and friends around the state, we might have had a gaping hole where the building now stands awaiting renewal. In bringing this building back to life, we are demonstrating in a very concrete way our commitment to undergraduate education and to responsible stewardship of public assets. "Instead of a wrecking ball, we're looking at construction equipment. Instead of a crater, we're looking at a 21st-century teaching and learning facility for our students."

Target completion date: fall 2005 Bids will be advertised beginning in March, and construction on Nicholson will begin in May. November 2005 is the target date for completion. Asbestos and lead will be abated, waterproofing and air conditioning added. The east wing and auditorium will be razed. The elevator will be moved from the art deco stairwell to the highly trafficked west wing, and the art deco fireplace room of student union days will be restored. Three floors of large classrooms will take up the west wing, and the third floor attic will become seminar rooms--a total of about a dozen badly-needed classrooms. A total of nearly 40,000 square feet of assignable space will become available. "We are basically preserving the historic portions--the shell, the north-facing profile, and a few key historic elements inside--and reconstructing everything else," said project manager Paul Oelze. With renovation of nearby Jones Hall (1901)--which will become a reception facility for the Office of Admissions and the home the CLA Language Center--the stage will be set for renovation of Folwell Hall. "Nicholson and Jones are just the beginning," said Rosenstone. "When our vision is fully realized, we'll have a vital historic humanities district that will be the culmination of literally decades of planning and dreaming. I like to think that fifty years from now--a century from now--students who walk the halls of these venerable buildings will thank this generation of Minnesotans for their commitment to preserving the University's heritage."

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Watch the progress of Nicholson's rehab at the Capital Planning and Project Management Web site. See historic photos of Nicholson Hall on the North Trail link of the Heritage Trail site. What's up next for capital improvements? See the U's 2004 capital bonding request. More about Nicholson Hall: From CLA Today , spring 2002: From Access , the General College magazine, winter 2003

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