Final plans approved for Old Main renovations

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s Board of Trustees Friday (Nov. 16) approved the final plans for renovations to Old Main’s infrastructure and architecture. The plans, designed by Ann Beha Architects of Boston, include a strategy for a phased renovation of the lobby, conservation of the Land Grant Frescoes, plumbing upgrades and replacement of the perimeter heat system. The main lobby will be temperature and humidity controlled to preserve the frescoes.

Old Main is a historic icon and one of the most recognized symbols of Penn State. It was designed in 1929 by Charles Klauder, a nationally renowned architect of academic buildings, and is widely considered one of his finest works.

The majority of Klauder’s original design is still intact today, due to the University’s careful maintenance and appreciation for the building’s design excellence. However, over the past 82 years, normal wear and deterioration, as well as necessary renovations to accommodate changes in building use, have compromised the preservation of some of the building’s original features. Utility infrastructure replacements and upgrades are necessary now to avoid critical failures in the building’s heating and plumbing systems. Inadequate temperature and humidity control in the lobby has been the main source of long-term deterioration of the historic frescoes painted by Henry Varnum Poor in the 1940s.

In addition to perimeter heat systems replacement on all floors, restrooms will be renovated and made ADA-compliant. For the lobby area only, state-of-the-art heating, ventilation, cooling and humidity control systems will be installed to create a comfortable environment year-round and to stabilize the frescoes. Work on the frescoes is well under way, and one wall has already been completed by experts from Albert Michaels Conservation.

Historical analysis has identified the color palette used in the lobby when Varnum Poor painted the Land Grant Frescoes. The walls and columns will be restored to reflect the original colors and finishes he would have seen on the surfaces and architectural details. The brick flooring will be refinished and the carpet will be replaced with a more historically appropriate design. Finally, discreet, indirect lighting will showcase the detailing on the columns, museum-type lighting will enhance the frescoes, and replicas of lost fixtures will be recreated with modern wiring. The end result of the renewal will maximize the value of today’s technologies while preserving the architectural integrity of the lobby.

The projected cost of the renovations is $11 million. Construction should be completed by the fall of 2013.

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Last Updated November 19, 2012