Enter the 'wow' factor at Lincoln Hall

Enter the 'wow' factor at Lincoln Hall

CHAMPAIGN — The scaffolding is down, the restorations nearly complete, and Lincoln Hall is just about ready for students — aside from a few finishing touches, such as Mr. Lincoln himself. And his lucky nose.

After more than two years of construction, the renovation of one of the University of Illinois' most historic buildings is winding down.

Faculty and administrative offices began moving in earlier this month, and the building will open for classes in August.

The century-old building on the UI Quad received a $58 million rehab, funded by the Illinois Capital Development Board. Lincoln Hall opened its doors in 1911 and underwent its last major renovation in 1928, when an addition that included its famous theater was built.

The dean's office, the Department of Sociology and the college's ATLAS technology unit are already back in the building. The Department of Communication will move in June 25, and the college's Student Academic Affairs Office will move in late July, once summer orientation is complete.

"It looks totally different from the old building. It's really beautiful," said Shari Day, office administrator for the sociology department, who moved in two weeks ago.

The project is a blend of the historic and modern. Exterior windows were replaced with more energy-efficient models, but the wood moldings were reused. New slate tiles on the roof look historical. Elaborate entranceways have a new coat of gleaming copper.

The first floor maintains its traditional wood doors, bannisters and terrazzo floors, but classrooms are outfitted with the latest interactive technology. Each has a computer for the instructor so professors don't have to bring their own laptops, along with a new sound system, recessed screens and "clickers' for students to answer questions or take surveys electronically.

All classrooms are now on the first floor, aside from small department seminars, to provide the best flow for students. Classroom doors, which open out into the hall, were recessed so that they wouldn't slam into passers-by.

On the upper floors, materials were reused where possible, but there's a contemporary feel to the spaces. Glass-walled conference rooms in three-story towers overlook the restored inner courtyard, now full of plantings.

Old chair-rails and other reclaimed wood from the project was used to create horizontal paneling in all of the reception areas in the building, including the second-floor dean's office.

Day loves how the building maintains its historical character, such as the original classroom doors, but she's also grateful for the modern central heating and air-conditioning systems. The old window units and boilers left a lot to be desired in terms of climate control, she said.

"We wore summer clothes in the winter and winter clothes in the summer," Day said.

Associate Dean Matthew Tomaszewski, who has been overseeing the project for the college, said planners incorporated energy-saving technology in the building with the goal of achieving gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system.

A green roof with low-maintenance plants, visible from upper windows, was added atop the atrium addition.

In a bright space on the fourth floor, home to rows of desks for graduate assistants, vaulted ceilings and skylights flood the room with light, and "smart" technology dims or brightens lights as needed.

The building's showpiece, the ornate theater, is in the final stages of renovation. It boasts 650 new theater seats — a bit wider to accommodate expanding Americans — with fold-out desks and the original endcaps.

The elaborate medallions, scrollwork and other embellishments on the walls and ceilings have been painstakingly restored with historical colors and gold and silver leaf.

"There were people for weeks on scaffolding with paint brushes a quarter-inch wide putting on stenciling," said Mike Wise, project manager for the campus.

Work remains in the backstage area, a few walls still need touch-ups, and crews this week were applying layers of paint to the stair rails.

But the marble entryway known as Memorial Hall gleams with gold leaf, the arched stained-glass window has new life and doors and railings have been painted to resemble bronze or aged copper.

"Everyone who comes here has that 'wow' factor," Wise said.

The gold niche that will once again hold the restored bust of Abraham Lincoln is ready and waiting. But to avoid damage, the statue will remain safely at the Spurlock Museum until all renovations are finished, Tomaszewski said. (Lincoln's nose, rubbed for good luck by students for decades, has also been refurbished.)

A cafe space is nearly complete under the theater, an area thought to be originally a smoking lounge for theater patrons. It had been carved up into small graduate assistant cubicles with a dropped ceiling, but architects uncovered a barrel-vaulted ceiling under the tile. The plan is to have vendors sell coffee and food.

Wise said the project is still within budget, though there have been some "unforeseen conditions." For instance, a glass wall had to be installed alongside the ornate wood-and-metal railing in Memorial Hall because it wasn't tall enough to meet code, and crews had to find some way to anchor it underneath, he said.

A grand rededication is scheduled for February 2013, to coincide with Lincoln's birthday.

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