October 27, 2017
An Interview: Preserving a Campus Landmark

Six limestone columns are all that remain of Academic Hall, the first building erected on the University of Missouri-Columbia’s campus in 1843. In 1892, a fire consumed and destroyed the building. Despite plans to tear them down, Columbia citizen, Jerry Dorsey passionately argued for the Columns’ preservation. Board President, Gideon Rothwell was so moved that he had a complete change of heart, uttering the line, “Let these Columns stand. Let them stand for a thousand years.” Since then, the campus has taken shape around the iconic landmark.

Earlier this year, IAA teamed with MTS Contracting and Brown & Root to preserve the Columns in order to ensure another century of longevity. The complex process was meticulously executed as our team explored both traditional and innovative preservation methods to reinforce and make the Columns safer. Throughout construction, IAA relied on the expertise of our construction team, led by MTS project manager, Wayne Loftin and Brown and Root project manager, John Melton. As work on the Columns neared completion, we thought it’d be interesting to get their perspective on the process and its significance to the University community, and also to learn a bit about each of them beyond this project. IAA’s discussion with Wayne and John is below.

How long have you been a Project Manager with your respective companies? 
W: Since 2004.
J: Since the early 2000’s.

What is your favorite, or most memorable past project?
W: My favorite, or best project would be the New England Building in Kansas City at Ninth and Wyandotte, just [because of] the material – [it is a] very old building. All the red sandstone was shipped in from Maine, and it’s just a very iconic, old-looking building.
J: Mine is probably working on the football stadium here at MU.

What other work have you completed at the University of Missouri campus? 
W: Personally, this is my first project at MU. Company-wide, we’ve done several projects on campus – Lowry, Switzer… we’ve worked on several projects.
J: We work here constantly. So, we’re doing Lafferre Hall, we did the Columns, we did the Columns last time – we do a lot of hospital work, we did work at the Softball field. You know, we’re all over campus.

Did you have any special feelings about working on this project? 
W: Personally, I lived in Columbia for 10 years and went to school at MU, so it was very special to me. You know, I was excited to get to bid on it. Then, when I got the project I was very excited…

Do you feel like you’ve learned anything new about the Columns since working on them?
W: Just the full history of them. You know, I did not know about the fire until we started the project…

Speaking of the fire, do you think many people even know about it? Do you think they understand why the Columns are even there today? 
W: I think the locals do, but I don’t know about anybody that’s just familiar with the University as a whole. But, I think they’re kind of an icon for the state as well – the University definitely – but also the state of Missouri. They’re an icon, a symbol, which is why we’re preserving them – not changing the look at all – just putting them back in the exact same way they were. This is strictly preservation – you don’t want to even know that we were there.

So, if a student came up to you and asked what you’re doing here, what would you tell him?
W: We’re conserving the Columns. We’re not changing the look, we’re just ensuring they’re going to be here for another 100 years…

How long will it be until they require work like this again?
W: 30-50 years honestly. The biggest factor in up-keep and deterioration moving forward is physical damage – you can’t control that. You know, it’s weather and climate. But, they’ve stood for 100 years and made it through a fire, so they’re pretty sturdy.

Is there anything besides the campus history and cultural significance that’s been unique about this project? Anything you don’t normally see during construction? 
W: Well, generally, speaking for MTS, we normally do buildings, where this is more of a – to me, it’s a sculpture – you know, just different mediums. We’re used to working with brick and masonry and stone, but not just complete stone projects
J: I’d say another thing would just be the unknown. There are indentations at the top that we’re curious about – was that actually ammunition in the building that maybe went off? What did cause it? – I mean you don’t know. It’s just a lot of that – the unknowns. When you see it… I wonder want caused that? I wonder how this got here? And then the heat from the fire actually deteriorating one side of the Column more so than the other side  – just kind of stuff like that that you find out as you get more on top of it.

We’ve heard there are a lot of fossils in the Columns? Can you tell us anything about them? 
W: As far as types, I’m not sure. But, there are just layers of them from the original limestone out of the quarry. I mean, some of it has no fossils, and then other [areas] it’s just layer after layer of fossils.

On another note, if you weren’t a construction Project Manager, what would you be doing? 
W: Professional fisherman.
J: I would probably be in the farming, agriculture industry. That’s the way I grew up. That’s the passion, just wasn’t quite enough money in it at the time I grew up. Now there is…

Any hobbies outside of work?
W: Family, fishing and more fishing.
J: I’d definitely go with the family, and then mine would lean towards the hunting. But, I definitely like to fish too… when [Wayne] takes me.

Pictured: Some of the construction crew from MTS working to preserve the Francis Quad Columns.

To learn more about our team’s process, visit the project page here.