07 April 2008

The End for Old Main?

Hogue Hall, Greenville College's symbol, may be razed

GREENVILLE — Sunlight shone through three tall, round-headed windows of the bell tower's second-story office, illuminating huge gaping cracks along walls in a room that wasn't supposed to lean, but did.

Most areas of Greenville College's historic Hogue Hall are in similar shape. Or worse. Gaping cracks snake their way up walls. Exposed bricks crumble when wiggled. Holes in floors reveal the rooms below. The engineering looks haphazard in spots, the result of 150-year-old construction guesswork.

This campus' signature building, the one on the school's stationery and bookstore coffee mugs, is falling apart. It already has fallen apart, really. School officials are trying to decide whether to salvage what they can or, more likely, build anew. Either way, Hogue Hall, known around here as "Old Main," will never be the same.

"It's kind of a symbol of our campus," said Seth England, 21, a senior music business and marketing major from Marshall, Ill.

He said students are concerned for Hogue and eager to hear its fate.

"It has a presence here. I think the students would hate to see it forgotten or not respected."

Hogue Hall, named after the first Greenville College president, Wilson T. Hogue, was first occupied in 1858. The four-story, 25,000-square-foot building most recently housed administrative and faculty offices, the main computer server room and five classrooms. About 75 people worked in the building.

Last summer, when the school started renovating the Italianate-style building, workers discovered major foundation problems.

It had been built with 500,000 bricks made by hand on campus. Many of those bricks were cooked unevenly and rendered weak, said Phil Amos, the school's facilities director. The best bricks were used on the outside for aesthetics. Engineers tested them recently.

"The integrity of the brick doesn't give us anything to work with," Amos said, easily picking away chunks with his fingers.

The pre-Civil War oak timbers, which essentially support the building, had also broken. Of five major engineering criteria an existing building must meet to be considered safe, Hogue Hall failed four. Failing even one gets a building shut down until repairs can be made. By November, everyone was moved out of Hogue Hall and into other campus buildings.

"We have people in every nook and cranny now, I believe," said Robyn Florian, the director of college relations and marketing.

The structural failings had been hidden behind carpet, wall paneling and coat after coat of plaster. With the brick now exposed, major cracks are easily seen. During a recent tour of the building, Amos was asked what the possibility was of the whole building collapsing at any minute.

"I have no idea," he said.

The floors were warped. Floor joints didn't even attach to the walls.

"By the way, we don't have an engineering program here," said David Hoag, a senior vice president at the school. "You've probably figured that out."

It will cost the school about $8 million to tear down Hogue Hall and build a new one, Hoag said. Renovating the building would cost $9 million. But the more digging they do, the more problems they seem to find.

"You've seen the movie 'The Money Pit'?" Hoag asked. "We don't know what's behind the next wall."

Even if the school does try to salvage the building, it's unclear how much of the original will remain. In the event of a renovation, the school would "basically be building a building within a building," Florian said.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich promised the school $5 million. The rest must come from federal grants, private foundations or alumni support.

The father of school President Jim Mannoia Jr. lived in Hogue Hall as a student. The building has a lot of sentimental value to the school and the community, Mannoia said.

"If you look at our stationery, the tower is at the heart of our logo," he said in his temporary office nearby.

While Mannoia would like to see the building saved, he suspects that might not be possible. He'll make a recommendation to the board around mid-May.

"From a financial point of view and a logistical point of view, we'll probably have to rebuild," he said.

Even if that happens, Mannoia said, any new version would have to feature the bell tower.

"I can't imagine we'd ever build something that didn't include that," he said.

And while the campus is coming to terms with the decline of this school's most visible symbol, an eventual farewell won't be easy.

"Everyone who has been to the college has been touched in some way by this building," Hoag said. "So that's what makes this so difficult."

It will be a sad day if Hogue Hall comes down.

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