June 15, 2020

The Story Behind An Orchid Award: UI Administration Building

CSHQA was honored Saturday at the 43rd Annual Orchids and Onions Awards ceremony hosted by Preservation Idaho. The Boise-based architecture and engineering firm’s restoration work on the University of Idaho Administration Building in Moscow, ID received an Orchid Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation. A deeper look at the careful skill and creativity dedicated to bringing new life to this old space is truly fascinating!

CSHQA's Danielle Weaver accepts an award during Preservation Idaho's 43rd Annual Orchids and Onions Awards Ceremony at the Schick-Ostolasa Farmstead in Hidden Springs, Idaho.

What is An Orchid Award?

For more than four decades, Preservation Idaho has celebrated positive contributions made to historic preservation with their Orchid Award. Among the four types of Orchid Awards is the Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation, which is “awarded to projects that have demonstrated outstanding adherence to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards in preservation, restoration, renovation, or adaptive reuse (residential or commercial).”

A Grand Building

The University of Idaho (U of I) Administration Building is perhaps the most important building on campus. Designed after a 1906 fire destroyed the original Queen Anne Building, the “new” Administration Building is a three-story brick building with a sandstone base, ornate enough to exude prestige. It includes a central outset bay flanked on each side by six gabled bays and dormers. The building also includes decorative towers, turreted parapets with finials, and a large clock. The north wing was added in 1911 to house a 600-seat auditorium, and the south wing was constructed in two phases and completed in 1936. The changing needs of the campus, heavy use, and ongoing upgrades of antiquated mechanical, electrical, and fire protection systems led to countless modifications to both the building’s interior and exterior. A classic example of Collegiate Gothic architecture, her once resounding beauty had been quieted by alterations and age that eroded some of her historic character.

University of Idaho Administration Building - Before

An Important Mission

The passing years brought deterioration and removal of historic materials, as well as code changes. Not only was the Administration Building in need of skillful updates to resurrect her grandeur, but some elements in the building no longer complied with modern day codes. CSHQA was tasked with restoring the original materials that remained, removing non-original materials whenever possible, and bringing the spaces up to code compliance for life safety. The most significant undertaking was the wood and wrought-iron guard rail on the three-story decorative stair in the foyer. The guardrail not only was lower than allowed by code, but the openings between its pickets were greater than allowed by code.

Additional project goals included the removal of two non-original closets/offices from the second-floor balcony and of the non-original institutional doors leading to the north and south corridors on each floor.

Beauty Comes from Within

Interior work followed the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Preservation, Restoration, and Rehabilitation. Most of the original finishes were present within the foyer but were in various states of degraded condition. In addition, there were many exposed pipes, conduit and other gadgets running along the walls and ceilings.

To revitalize the stairway, paint was stripped from the original cast iron stair treads, which were removed, restored, and reinstalled. CSHQA was able to use the original building drawings to replicate the original treads for installation on the stairs and on landings where they had been removed after becoming too worn and slippery. The new treads had the same color and pattern as the original but contained a slip resistant surface. Paint was stripped from the original sandstone and the sandstone was repaired, restored, and resealed around the edges.

The major task of the interior work was to preserve the historic cast iron and wood guardrail, and make it code compliant. The original guardrail was approximately 36” high, a full 6” below requirements. CSHQA carefully considered several ways to bring the guardrail into compliance while still preserving the original design. New transparent, laminated glass guardrail was installed and attached to the front face of the stair riser on the open side of the 3-story foyer stairs. This solution provided a 42”-high code-compliant rail that showcased the historic rail through the glass. And because the glass was placed tight enough to the existing guardrail, the previous non-code compliant picket spacing was also rectified. A new code compliant handrail was added on both sides of the stair where missing, and existing handrails were refinished and remounted at a code compliant height.

Next, CSHQA turned to the non-original institutional doors on each floor that were installed in the 70s for fire code compliance. The team was able to satisfy fire code with the installation of additional sprinklers in the corridors, which meant these doors could be removed and the plaster and stone surrounds restored. Other work included restoring original plaster walls and ceilings; removing non-original light fixtures, and installing more historically sensitive fixtures; concealing all conduit and piping within walls and ceilings; removing all non-original acoustic tile ceilings and restoring or replacing plaster ceilings above; restoring the wood floors; removing paint from the original cast iron stair treads and from the sandstone window casings; and restoring original door hardware.

University of Idaho Administration Building - After

Revitalizing the Outside

But the beautiful inside now needed an equally marvelous outside. At the north entry of the building, the original tile mosaic on the door’s landing had suffered wear-and-tear. Over time, some of the tiles had cracked or been misplaced. The expert team was able to restore the original mosaic, replacing missing tiles with new custom tiles to match the existing ones. The entire mosaic was then resealed.

In addition, the granite stairs at the entry had shifted, and the mortar and sealant had degraded. Again, CSHQA adjusted the stairs and carefully replaced the missing mortar and sealant to match the original. It was discovered that the sidewalk along the base of the steps did not meet required ADA slopes, so most of the sidewalk was removed and reinstalled per ADA compliance.

The parapet on the SW building façade was crumbling and unstable, causing the University to worry that it might topple over. In addition, the brick and sandstone needed repair, and the joints repointed. CSHQA, provided a plan to restore the façade, and stabilize the parapet. In addition, they worked with a cast stone company out of Washington to recreate four of the 70 finials that once adorned the Administration building and mounted them back in place. Over time the historic finials had been removed as their anchoring systems failed. As funding is realized in the future, additional finials will be cast using the mold created.

A Job Well Done

CSHQA’s dedicated and expert team including John Maulin, Danielle Weaver, Katie Butler, Jesse Walker, and John Ziel has spent over 1,800 hours lovingly and meticulously restoring the splendor of the U of I Administration Building. The project is a wonderful example of the power and importance of historic preservation, and a true success story of uncovering the glory in older buildings. When great architecture crosses with the right restoration team, the result is a magnificent space so many can be proud of―you might recognize the Administration Lobby platform as the backdrop President Scott Green now uses to deliver important messages to the public and the State of Idaho! Danielle Weaver accepted the Orchid Award on behalf of the firm at a lovely ceremony hosted by Preservation Idaho and held at the Schick-Ostolasa Farmstead in Hidden Springs, Idaho.

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