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Work on Gasson Hall will begin after Commencement and is expected to be completed by the fall of 2011. (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

Gasson Project Will Affect Office, Classroom Space

Gasson Hall will undergo an extensive and complex restoration in a construction project scheduled to begin shortly after Commencement
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By Reid Oslin | Chronicle Staff
Published: February 4, 2010
Gasson Hall, the nearly century-old signature building of the Boston College campus, will undergo an extensive and complex restoration in a construction project scheduled to begin shortly after Commencement this spring. Classroom and office space in Gasson will be moved to other campus locations until the project’s estimated completion date in the fall of 2011.

Pending final approval of the project next month by the University’s Board of Trustees, construction work will start in early June. Gasson, the principal jewel in the University’s stunning English Collegiate Gothic architectural crown, was the first building constructed on the Chestnut Hill campus. It was dedicated in 1913.

“It is our signature building and it is in great need of repair,” said Executive Vice President Patrick Keating. “We know that time is ticking in terms of how long we can wait to do that. We have made a decision to present a plan to the board in March to complete the renovations that we did on the [Gasson] tower.”

The extensive project will have a “significant impact” on the building’s occupants as well as faculty and students with classes scheduled in Gasson’s 22 classrooms, Keating said. “We have been working hard with those departments to find alternatives, and while the alternatives are certainly not as good as their current space, we think that we have a plan that will be reasonable for them to accommodate this renovation.

“It’s a short-term ‘pain.’ But there is a significant long-term ‘gain.’” University Provost and Dean of Faculties Cutberto Garza added that “Gasson Hall’s renovation presents logistical challenges for students, faculty and staff. Yet no one disagrees that the building is a signature part of Boston College’s history and landscape.

“When the renovation is completed, occupants and visitors will behold a brighter and clearer structure, with improved access and space
usage. Gasson’s functional and decorative elements will endure well into the next century, and will enhance the aesthetic and educational experiences of Boston College students.”

Executive Director of Student Services Louise Lonabocker and her staff worked with the University’s Space Planning office to identify available space – much of it on the University’s Middle Campus – that will be used during the Gasson construction term. “We are going to take advantage of some classrooms in Carney Hall with underutilized seats,” Lonabocker said. “When Carney was built classes here were larger, but now we offer a lot of smaller classes.”

The offices of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Arts and Sciences Honors Program and University Counseling will also be temporarily relocated to work space in Carney.

Lonabocker notes that lounge areas in McGuinn Hall and McElroy Commons, as well as lounge areas in several Upper Campus dormitories and O’Connell Hall, will be used as classroom space while renovations are underway.

“We have asked a number of graduate classes that may meet just once a week to consider the Brighton Campus,” Lonabocker said. “The School of Theology and Ministry has been very welcoming in volunteering to share some of the classroom space that they have.

“We are also encouraging people to offer early morning classes, beginning at 8 a.m.,” she said. “In anticipation of this, last year we significantly increased the number of 8 a.m. classes and we will continue those.

“People are being cooperative. They understand that the room changes will only be for a short period of time.”

John Romeo, the University’s director of capital construction, says the new Gasson Hall project will involve the removal and replacement of some 6,800 pieces of pre-cast stone. Each piece of stone will be removed, measured, photographed and shipped to a pre-cast contractor who will, in turn, create molds, pour concrete, cure and ship it back to Chestnut Hill.

Pieces of stone or decorative items that have deteriorated over the years will be recreated from detailed drawings deposited at the Boston Public Library when the building was originally constructed. “Our contractor will get a sculptor who will replicate each one of the shields or specific stonework on the exterior of Gasson; it will be authenticated by the University; the pre-cast supplier will create a mold and pour the concrete so that when it comes back, you will be looking at the original design piece,” Romeo said. “It will be amazing.”

One of the biggest reconstruction tasks, according to Romeo, will be the removal and replacement of each of the 450-lb. granolithic base pieces that form the foundation of the three-story building that measures 155 feet on each side. Building elements will be supported while each piece is individually replaced.

The precast porticos on the east and west sides, along with the grand stairways of the building will be dismantled and completely rebuilt; some 250 new aluminum windows will be installed, which will increase future energy conservation; roof and drainage systems will be updated and replaced; and four new accessible entrances on the north and south sides of Gasson Hall will be constructed.

“In the interior, we are going to install a new sprinkler system, replace the fire alarm system, and other miscellaneous accessibility upgrades,” Romeo said. The Gasson Hall bell tower, completely refurbished two years ago in the initial restoration phase, will also be illuminated as part of this project, he adds.

Romeo says that contractors will be required to work through next winter to complete this latest phase of the Gasson renovation in the shortest possible time.

“If you look at the tower now, you will notice how it stands out,” said Romeo. “That’s how the whole building will look when we are finished.

“This is by far the most challenging, fascinating and unique project that I have been involved in during my 40-plus year construction career. There is no part of this project that is ‘typical construction.’ There are just so many fascinating pieces to this.”