Building frustration

Surprises inside the 115-year-old sociology building have delayed construction of MU’s Reynolds Journalism Institute by one year
Thursday, June 21, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:14 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Only the outer walls remain of the sociology building on Francis Quadrangle, one of the buildings undergoing renovations as part of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute project. The walls and foundation of the structure are solid on their own, but a bracing system of steel beams is in place to reinforce them until interior elements are replaced.

Digging up the past can turn up unpleasant surprises. Just ask Roger Gafke, director of program development for the Donald W. Reynolds Institute.

“We asked the engineers if we could have known about it ahead of time, and they said probably not,” he said. “You needed to get in and begin the renovation. Everybody said that when you get into an old building and begin renovation, you are going to find some surprises.”


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That old building is MU’s former sociology department headquarters, erected in 1892 as the “Law Barn,” the university’s original law school.

The surprise: The construction workers assigned to gut and rebuild the interior first had to reinforce the deteriorating outer walls by injecting liquid cement, or grout, in between the bricks. That process caused the overall construction project, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, to be delayed by a full year.

“We thought it would be finished and we would be able to move in this month,” Gafke said.

The unexpected work was paid for by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and MU, at $770,000 and $700,000 respectively.

The Reynolds Foundation is the primary funding source of the project and initially contributed $31 million, the largest single donation for any project in MU history. When completed, the former sociology building will contain the journalism library, offices for faculty and fellows, and a work area for journalists.

But first it must be finished, a process that Phil Shocklee, associate director of campus facilities, said is much harder than constructing a completely new building. Besides the surprise outer wall reinforcement, construction workers from Sircal-Kozeny-Wagner Inc. also had to deal with some expected challenges that are not found when building a new structure.

“They needed to drill piers into the bedrock under the foundation of the building,” Gafke said. “When the building was built in the late 1800s, the practice was to dig a big trench and fill that with rocks, put in some cement and call it good. Our plan was to put several supports underneath.”

Another accommodation described by Gafke was the installation of steel beams that transferred the weight of the building’s roof from the inside walls to the outside brick walls. The beams, which are in the attic, had to be installed before the building could be gutted.

Despite all the extra time, effort and money spent on renovating the sociology building, and with Walter Williams Hall still left to be renovated, it never crossed Gafke’s mind that it might just be better to get rid of the old buildings altogether and build new ones.

“It’s a historic old building; preserving that was by far the biggest issue,” he said. “We wanted to preserve it because its an important part of what our campus looks like.”

Pam Johnston, the executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Institute, agrees.

“I really believe in the decision to restore the sociology building and remodel Walter Williams. It’s been difficult with the delays, and we’re behind where we would have been. But we’ve been working on a lot of programs that are beginning to bear fruit without the buildings. We’re still working regardless of whether we have the building or not.”

To follow the progress of construction online, go to the School of Journalism's live webcam at:

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