What the Future Holds
In the summer of 2021, contractors will begin a full renovation of Alumni Hall. In this two-year project, all of the interior will be stripped back to the base concrete, steel and masonry structure of the building and a full reconstruction will provide the College with what is essentially a brand-new mixed academic and administrative support facility.
On this page we present the project outlines, what makes this a little different from other projects, and what you will see as the work commences.
Many of the College’s buildings have undergone partial or complete renovations since the two waves of original construction in the 1950s and 60s. The general rule of thumb is that we plan to renovate a structure when it gets to be about 50 to 60 years old. In the last 25 years we have entirely redone Perna Science, Human Ecology, Physical Science, Fitzelle, Tobey, Golding, Littell, Wilber & Huntington Residence Halls, and the Counseling, Health & Wellness Center. There have been serial partial-to-almost total renovations at Fine Arts, Hunt Union, Lee, Milne, and Mills & Wilsbach Dining Halls along with various Telecommuncations/HVAC/Electrical upgrades, and of course completely new structures at Higgins, Field House, Welcome Center, Red Dragon Outfitters and most recently the Emergency Services Building. These are in addition to hundreds of smaller upgrade projects far too numerous to list.
The completion of the Welcome Center, Red Dragon Outfitters, Emergency Services Building and renovation of the western wing of the Hunt College Union were steps in a long-running Facilities Master Plan (see the link to our FMP in the menu at left) that, among many other things, ultimately made the rehab of Alumni Hall possible. Creating modern, functional spaces has allowed us to relocate several offices and plan for future upgrades. We can’t strip a building down with staff working in it, after all.
Alumni Hall will become the home of our Department of Economics, Finance and Accounting, Department of Management, Marketing and Information Systems, and the Division of College Advancement. The design work for this large project was carried out by a team of six firms, covering architecture, engineering, construction planning, landscaping, surveying and other services. As is typical for projects of this scope, we went through a lengthy iterative design process (working closely with the eventual building occupants) lasting three years. It should be noted, however, that the first program statements related to the planning process date from 2016 – these projects have roots that easily run back seven to ten years before the ribbon-cutting!
The general plan after contractors gut out all of the non-load-bearing interior structure is to redevelop the building:
The Ground Floor level will provide space for our alumni to call home. It will include a lounge/reception area for all alumni, and meeting space for the College Foundation and Alumni Association Boards of Directors. It will be a place for graduates to meet with fellow Red Dragons or a place to enjoy a quiet moment while visiting campus;
There will be a mix of office space, classrooms, student study and meeting spaces plus affiliated facilities for the academic departments on the first floor;
And more office, lecture & meeting space for academics on the second floor.
The design will be developing new and much more inviting entryways at the upper and lower levels.
The completed building will provide purpose-designed spaces for all of the functions it is to support, as opposed to modification of existing structure (which always imposes severe compromises).
The building will be entirely accessible, offer completely new data network infrastructure, vastly improved lighting and new furnishings in an up-to-date architectural setting.
Most interesting of all, perhaps, are the new technologies that will go into the building’s heating and cooling systems. Until now, all of our buildings, from Old Main (1888) to the Welcome Center (2017) have relied, in one fashion or another, on the combustion of fossil fuels for heating and the direct use of electrical power in operating compressors for cooling. Alumni Hall will use an entirely different technology. Known popularly as “Geothermal” or “GeoExchange”, an array of wells adjacent to the building will allow the use of the earth’s ambient thermal energy as a source of heat for the building in winter and as a sink for heat in the summer.
The wells will be under the lot across the road from Alumni.
Electrical power will only be used for operation of the heat pumps and other equipment required to move heat into and out of the building, not to generate it. Our first step along this road was, in fact, the construction of the Emergency Services Building, which is entirely electrically-operated and is thus retrofittable to alternative energy generation or the use of offsets, and in any event is highly efficient in its use of power for heating and cooling. Alumni Hall, however, will be in a class of its own in that it will employ geothermal wells as its main source of heating and cooling.
To accomplish this is no mean feat; it will require the drilling of an array of 35 wells in the location of the current parking lot between Alumni and Tobey Halls, and the installation of an impressive network of piping to connect it to the building’s systems. But we expect that it will be the first of many projects to employ alternative technologies for environmental control systems.
The geothermal system benefited from funding through the NYPA/NYSERDA Clean Geothermal Clean Energy Challenge.
The building will also employ a heat recovery system similar to that at the Emergency Services Building, to transfer heat in and out of exterior air that is drawn into the building. This is a significant energy conservation measure that allows the introduction of fresh air into a thermally tight building without loss of primary heating and cooling effort. These and other features are part of the college's Energy Master Plan.
The work has started in earnest, after we removed the last remaining usable items from the building and salvaged various bits of hardware and materials. The contractor (the same one that did Physical Science and more recently a bunch of work on the Hunt Union parking lot, Bugbee Road, the baseball field and West Dorm Drive) enclosed the building in the familiar fencing and has started on interior demolition and other removals. A drilling rig is proceeding on the geoexchange well field.
Due in part to the geothermal well components of the work, plus a need to be able to bring in and out heavy equipment and materiel, the project will require a fairly large enclosed area around the building. A portion of West Dorm Drive will be closed for the duration of the project, and it will coincide with some redevelopment of pedestrian pathways on the west side of the building as we also seek to improve accessibility of walkways along the central spine of the campus. Traffic pathways will be rerouted around the site on South Dorm Drive and the bus stop presently at Alumni will be relocated.
This project is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2023, for a reopening in the fall semester of that year.
The Department of Facilities will post updates with photos of progress as the project moves along.
This section presents some historical background on the building.
Background of Alumni Hall
Alumni Hall was originally constructed in 1958-59 as a new Library for the growing campus. Prior to that time, the College’s Old Main building hosted a library in a single large room in the east wing of the building’s second level. This was a rather large 60’ X 90’ space with an adjoining 32’ X 32’ magazine room.
This served the original building (and after 1931 the adjacent Bugbee Hall) quite well, but in 1948 the Oneonta Normal School became part of the new State University system and began its expansion towards the campus we know today. The addition of the Morris Complex, Human Ecology (originally “Home Economics”) and the Tobey, Littell & Wilber residence halls meant that a larger, more complex population required a new library building.
So, a new library there would be.
The initial plan from the 1946 “Post War Planning Commission” was for an elaborate structure in an architectural style very similar to Morris Complex, with many large seminar, lecture and classrooms and a museum, in addition to the standard stack collection spaces and other typical library features.
The 1946 plans also had fairly advanced designs for a grand administration building, an auditorium building, a home economics building, heating plant, gymnasium and two large dormitories. Postwar economic and political realities scaled back this ambitious vision, however, and initially only the heating plant and home economics building were built as-designed, and the two large dormitories were combined into one structure with some modest “attendant facilities” and became Morris Complex.
The 1946 library design was scrapped and a smaller concept was developed that had none of the typical pre-war University architectural intricacies. It was a simple, and by comparison somewhat unimaginative Modernist brick structure designed by the Albany firm of Toole & Angerame.
The construction of the building proceeded about ten years later and was completed in 1959. A deal was struck whereby Florence Ford Collins, granddaughter of Oneonta businessman Eliakim Ford (and Oneonta Normal School alumnus before she moved on to Vassar), donated 200 shares of IBM stock - at the time valued at $81,000 (over $900,000 in 2021 dollars!) - to be used for books, furnishings, supplies, equipment etc. Stipulated was also to name the structure after James M. Milne, the first Principal of the Normal School and Florence Ford’s teacher. Thus it became the Milne Library. Florence also donated a copy of a book she edited, A Family Anthology of Poetry, which is still in our library’s Special Collection.
The job was bid out to a collection of contractors for a total cost of $931,334, so with the gift from Mrs. Collins it pretty much came out to a million-dollar project. Corrected for 2021 dollars that’s roughly $8.5 million. For all kinds of reasons, modern construction is significantly more costly than that, by a factor of about 5 or 6.
The Milne Library actually opened in 1960, after the student body participated in the move of books, almost entirely by hand, from Old Main’s library up the hill to the new facility.
The new library was a pretty straightforward affair, with typical stack areas, reading rooms, one seminar room, a listening room for audio recordings and a small film theater in the ground floor level. The style was 1950s-Modernist on the inside as well, with lots of aluminum and glass, wood paneling, terrazzo, linoleum tile and metal-panel-and-grid-drop-ceilings. Functionality was key, with clean lines and lots of linearity in the design, with almost no ornamentation anywhere. This was a strong departure from the styles of the Jeffersonian / Neoclassical Morris Complex, the somewhat restrained Collegiate-Gothic Bugbee School and of course the deeply Romanesque-style Old Main. But the Modernist change was evident in the Human Ecology building (1948), the Tobey/Littell/Wilber dorms (1957-59), and in fact most subsequent design work of the 1960s.
The exterior was very simple in its layout, really a collection of brick boxes with brooding, understated, deepset entryways done up in what feels a bit like an afterthought of granite panels and concrete. Form definitely followed function.
Alumni Hall Upper Entryway
1960, with air conditioners already
The first Milne Library, as it turned out, only served in that capacity for a little over a decade. By 1972, the campus had dramatically expanded from nine buildings to thirty, from eight hundred students to over five thousand, and the even larger, present Milne Library was built on an existing parking lot to take over the role.
The first Milne Library became “Alumni Hall” and home to a collection of different departments down through the decades, including the Writing Center, Admissions, the Educational Opportunity Program, Alumni Engagement, the WONY Student Radio Station, Public Safety (and then University Police), Center for Social Responsibility, Center for Academic Development & Enrichment, and many others. However, its fundamental design as an open-plan library has always made it very challenging to modify for other uses. We’re all looking forward to an updated structure that supports academics and administration for the 21st Century.