“You could say the arboretum may have benefited,” said Jerry Guerrier, project manager for the Howell renovations.
“That’s the running joke.”
The mystery of the untraceable sewage was just one of the unforeseen challenges of renovating the more-than-100-year-old building.
To replace the windows, for example, workers have had to not only remove the windows, but also the brick masonry surrounding them. They salvaged what bricks they could and then spent a month-and-a-half searching for new bricks that would match the building’s look, Guerrier said.
Designers wanted to preserve the historic integrity of the building while installing new technology. The renovated building will house a lecture hall and labs for an additional wing of the University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.
“We’re renovating a turn-of-the century building into a state-of-the-art lab,” Guerrier said. “We’re trying to maintain the integrity of the historic contributions, but stitching in all-new technology and systems.”
Built in 1906, Howell Hall originally housed the chemistry department. It also held the pharmacy and journalism schools at different times, said Tamsen Foote, executive assistant in the psychology and neuroscience department.
Prior to its renovations, the building operated as a “swing space” where professors could have temporary offices, a place psychology department Chairman Don Lysle called the “odds and ends of different departments.”
Although the design phase began in 2013, Guerrier said the project didn’t get off the ground until 2014, and construction didn’t start until March 2015 — one month after the original plan’s projected end date.
People in the psychology department were disappointed with the delay but understood that such large projects take time, Lysle said.
Much of Howell Hall was not up to code. The building had no sprinkler system, and what life-safety system did exist was deficient, Guerrier said. Construction workers tore out the metal fire escapes and added interior staircases at both ends of the building, along with a new entryway that allows easier access to the elevator.
Workers are upgrading utilities — including the sewage system — and replacing windows, putting on a new roof and redoing the landscaping. The budget for the entire project is $12.3 million, and Guerrier expects construction to finish in March 2016.
When Davie Hall, the current home of the department, was reassessed for space, the report found the department needed twice as much space as it had, Lysle said.
“The field is becoming much more technology-driven, which requires more equipment,” he said.
The fields of biology and psychology are also moving together, creating the need for physiological research as well, he said.
Lysle said people in the psychology department are excited to expand into the much-needed space Howell will provide.
“We’re just happy that it’s going on, even if it’s construction noise,” he said.