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Features - February 2004

Diamond in the Rough Polished into Historic Gem

Oregon State University's Weatherford Hall to Take on New Life as Residential College

by Melody Finnemore

An $18 million renovation to Oregon State University's Weatherford Hall is bringing the aging former men's dormitory back to life.
Photo courtesy of Howard S. Wright Construction Co.

An $18 million renovation will help Oregon State University's venerable Weatherford Hall regain its status as a historic treasure and also turn it into the Corvallis institution's first residential college.

Weatherford Hall was built in 1928 as a men''s dormitory. However, OSU officials closed it in 1994 because of the building's aged infrastructure. By the time students return for class this fall, the 100,000-sq.-ft. structure will feature updated residential space and will house the new Austin Entrepreneurship Program, classrooms, a cyber cafe and suites for visiting lecturers and entrepreneurs.

The Austin Entrepreneurship Program, administered by OSU's College of Business, fosters new business ventures developed by students. A $4-million gift from alumnus Ken Austin and his wife, Joan, makes OSU one of the first universities to establish a residential learning program with this focus.

"We have a building that turned 75 last year that is a real treasure for our campus and for our state, in my opinion," said Tom Scheuermann, OSU''s director of University Housing and Dining. "It's going to be a spectacular building for the 295 students and the faculty who live there, but we also see it as a catalyst for the campus where there will be a lot of activity for students, faculty and visiting entrepreneurs."

SERA Architects Inc. of Portland launched its design plan for Weatherford Hall in 1997 by touring institutions such as Yale University and the University of Virginia that have several residential colleges. The research helped define how to ensure successful functionality when residential and academic uses are combined in a single structure, said Natasha Koiv, the firm''s project manager.

Security is a key design issue because there are numerous doors throughout the structure, and access to academic space will be more open than access to residential space. Elm trees that had grown to block the building's entry path were removed so there is a clear view of Weatherford Hall.

A dining hall that was attached to the back of the structure during the 1950s was removed and will be replaced by an outdoor amphitheater. Windows that were broken were replaced with replicas that had to be specially manufactured because of their unique sizes, Koiv said.


Howard S. Wright Construction Co. of Portland started its work in June, gutting most of the interior plaster to make way for the new classrooms and 24-hour cyber cafe. In addition, the renovation calls for upgrades to the structural, plumbing and electrical systems.

Weatherford Hall was built with unreinforced concrete with a brick veneer exterior, so seismic support has played a large role in the renovation. The hall initially was constructed as five separate buildings under one roof, with concrete walls dividing it into sections that each had their own lounges and sleeping porches. Its unique W shape features anywhere from three to six floors in various areas of the structure.

Weatherford Hall was constructed in just six months as the Depression loomed. The quick turnaround and shrinking supply of building materials are apparent in various areas of the building, such as a spot where lumber used to form concrete was reused to construct the roof, said Dan Pelissier, senior project manager for Howard S. Wright Construction.

"We talk about green building but they were just as efficient with their resources, although for different reasons," he said. "It's kind of fun to see the history and how things were done at the time.

"A special interest of this job is the historic nature of it and the beauty that it once had. It was kind of a diamond in the rough, and what intrigued us about the project was the chance to restore it to its former glory. You look around our office and out of 30 people, I know of at least three who used to live there."

Of course, with any historic project there must be an accompanying set of ghost stories and myths. Thus far, however, construction crews have yet to encounter Og, a rock that allegedly lives in Weatherford Hall and has traveled the world with generations of students over the years. Nor has anyone met up with a large python that is supposed to live in the building, Pelissier said.

"We haven't seen the snake yet, so if he lives in there he's hiding well," Pelissier added.

Project Team:

Owner: Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore.
General Contractor: Howard S. Wright Construction Co., Portland, Ore.
Architect: SERA Architects, Portland, Ore.
Structural Engineer: KPFF Consulting Engineers, Portland, Ore.

Useful Sources:

The following site features a live camera link to the ongoing construction project:


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