Best Renovation/Restoration

To salvage the 158-year-old Cowles Hall at Elmira College and maintain its aesthetic and historic value, an extensive $29-million stabilization and restoration project was commissioned.

The project aimed to revive the college's first campus building, which had been closed for more than 20 years. Work was completed in two parts: the stabilization of the foundation and skeleton in preparation for interior demolition and the floor-by-floor rebuilding of the interior.

The existing field stone foundation was excavated for concrete footer and wall installation. A large portion of the excavation was completed by hand, with workers shoveling out dirt and coal from the depths of the building's expansive basement. A new structural steel frame was introduced to support the interior floors and roof and to tie into the existing exterior shell.

Once the interior steel framing and concrete was completed, the outside of the existing field stone foundation wall was excavated and encapsulated with a new concrete foundation wall and post-tensioned walls to ensure that it would maintain its bearing. Today, the brick walls carry only their own weight and the remainder of the building rests on the new steel structure built within.

Custom artisans were employed for masonry restorations, pew building, wood and stone carvings, light fixtures, statues, exit signs, stained glass and millwork. Fifty false chimneys were crafted by local masons; a four-story vaulted ceiling was finished with millwork; and 16 17-ft-high,hand-painted stained glass windows were crafted for the chapel.

The project, which one Best Projects judge called "an excellent example of a renovation," required a careful sequencing of exploratory work, shoring, demolition and new construction in a fragile building at risk of collapse. "It's phenomenal what they did [considering that] they were going to tear it down," another judge said.

In September 2011, the approach of Tropical Storm Lee was another concern, but the project remained on track and was delivered in spring 2012.

Elmira College Cowles Hall Stabilization & Restoration, Elmira, N.Y.

Key Players

Owner Elmira College

Construction Manager Welliver

Lead Designer/Civil Engineer QPK Design LLP

Structural Engineer John P. Stopen Engineers

MEP Engineer Sack & Associates

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