Category: Historic Restoration  
Location: Elmira College: Elmira, NY.
Size: 65,000 sf
Masonry Used: Concrete: 1,900 cy. CMU: 4765 units. Bricks: Towers: 18324 units. Elevator: 5782 units. Dormers: 2458 units. Chimneys: 20644 units. South Stair: 4390 units. Power House: 8505 units. Misc: 1505 units.

Submitted By: Welliver Mcguire Inc.

Project Description

Cowles Hall was built in 1855 when Elmira College was founded. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it served as the sole facility for the all-female college (which has been coeducational since 1969), functioning as a student dormitory, dining hall, classroom space and library; it was later named after Dr. Augustus Cowles, the college’s first president. In 2010, Elmira College commissioned an extensive $29 million stabilization and restoration of Cowles Hall, which had not been used for almost 20 years. The project was completed in two parts:

The stabilization of the foundation and construction of a shell in preparation for interior demolition. Rebuilding the interior floor by floor. The stabilization began with the interior excavation of the field stone foundation.

Once finished, the 15 feet of interior excavation was completed with stone and new steel columns. Horizontal steel was tied into the columns and then braced through each window opening, pinching the brick wall between steel and 8 inch timbers to secure the exterior brick walls while complete demolition of all of the wood interior framing, floors and walls took place. When the interior framing and concrete was completed, the outside of the existing field stone foundation wall was excavated and encapsulated with a new concrete foundation wall and post-tensioned steel rods to ensure that the field stone would maintain its bearing. Today, the brick walls carry only their own weight and the rest of the building is supported by the new steel structure built within. In addition to the structural stabilization, the interior rebuild would restore the main level to its original function as a public campus space.

This included a new four-story, 3,345-square-foot chapel in the east wing and a lounge, offices, and conference room in the west wing, all connected by an octagonal central Remembrance Hall. The upper three floors were prepared and left as flex space for a future nursing school. The design called for one significant change to the building shell — dormers and 50 false chimneys were crafted by local masons and installed to restore the original façade aesthetic. Additional masonry restoration was completed on the 42,000-square-foot façade to save the original bricks. Masonry work on an attached power house and the south stair and portico, the site of the college’s graduation ceremony, was also completed.

The exterior was landscaped and brick pavers completed the project, neatly tying into the rest of the campus aesthetic. The project was completed in two years despite Hurricane Lee in 2011. Building a steel-framed structure with a brick veneer is not a new concept. Building it backwards, however, an existing brick veneer and a new structure within, is less common. The Cowles Hall project is proof that if a project team can gather enough information, the possibility is there to salvage and restore a building using masonry. In this case, it enabled Elmira College to pay respect to the building that was truly the foundation of the institution.