It’s another normal day of classes for Muhlenberg’s recently returned student-body. As they make their way down academic row, the clock strikes noon, but an unfamiliar silence settles over the campus for this time of day.
This week, the renovation process will have officially begun on Haas College Tower, the pinnacle of architecture on Muhlenberg’s campus. The project has been in the works for two years according to David Rabold, the college’s Capital Resources Manager, after a routine maintenance inspection of the tower revealed damage to the limestone blocks that form the tower.
“Plant Operations decided to have the tower powerwashed,” said Rabold. “When we cleaned off the limestone, it became apparent that the dirt was also hiding lots of cracks in the limestone, at which point we engaged engineering firms to talk to us about analyzing what’s going on. The bottom line is, it needs to be repaired.”
With the tower’s original completion in 1926, years of wind exposure have stressed the limestone, causing these cracks to form mostly vertical patterns within the blocks. However, Rabold says there is no real cause for concern.
“It was not at any risk,” added Rabold. “There was nothing wrong with the building structurally.”
The limestone blocks help protect the inner-workings of the tower, which are made mostly of steel. If the cracks were not fixed, water would be able to penetrate the outer-shell of the tower and erode the steel. Upon Plant Operations’ inspection of the steel, Rabold explained that it was “in great shape,” and there were no signs of “permanent damage.”
In order to evaluate the extent of the repairs, the College first sought help from Philadelphia-based historical structure engineering firm Keast & Hood. Keast & Hood evaluated the structural integrity of the Tower, but not without help from Trexler Library’s Special Collections and Archives Librarian Susan Falciani.
Falciani explained the Keast & Hood reached out to her for “close-up, original aspects of the building,” a historical insight vital to the evaluation of the Tower’s anatomy. Upon investigation of the Tower’s architectural history, Falciani made several discoveries on the origin and uses for the Haas College Center and tower.
“I believe there used to be a lot of metal stacks that went up through the middle that could be up to six to eight floors,” said Falciani. “The metal shelving wasn’t a complete eight or 12 foot floor, it was shorter than that and there was an elevator that would take you up that was incredibly rickety, so you had to be careful how you stood in it.”
Even back in the day, Muhlenberg seemed to struggle with the limited amount of space that the campus had offered. “The gymnasium was in the basement of Ettinger and there was a chapel room in Ettinger, everything was in Ettinger,” said Falciani. “It was bursting at the seams.”
Construction on the Haas Library wrapped up in 1926, introducing a new home for the countless collections of books formerly housed within Ettinger.
Named after Muhlenberg’s longest serving president, John A.W. Haas, the building even predates the Chapel, a hallmark of Lutheran tradition on campus. Falciani attributes the campus’ layout and appearance to Haas, driven by his motto “For a greater Muhlenberg.”
From 1904 to 1936, John A.W. Haas saw the successful construction of both the Haas College Center and the Trumbower Science Building, among others.
“Ettinger and East had been the brain-child of the previous president, but Haas was very driven to a campaign of us becoming a real campus,” said Falciani.
The second-most recent renovations began in 1987-88, marking the end of the legacy of the Haas Library and the beginning of the Haas College Center. Before the renovations, administration was housed in Ettinger, which used to be called the “Ad Building.”
Other renovations and repairs have occurred between 1988 and 2017, but the evaluation that Keast & Hood conducted suggested years of mostly harmless, natural and unmonitored damage.
From there, Rabold reached out to Masonry Preservation Systems, who was contracted and tasked with completing the actual repair process. Rabold says that repairs are expected to last until the end of November.
The repairs themselves, as explained by Rabold, are a relatively routine and straightforward process. Rather than reinforce the rigid limestone, Keast & Hood developed a solution to avoid fighting the forces of nature even further.
“What we’ll do is clean out the cracks, straighten them out and put in a sealant that’s flexible,” said Rabold. “While we’re up there, we’re going to redo the tower cover.”
The concrete between the gold tiles that form the shell of the dome will also be cleaned, re-grouted and repaired as needed. Depending on the damage to each limestone block, a lime-concrete solution will be used to fill the crack, or a wire stitch will be used to ensure the structural integrity of each block. Some blocks may need no repairs at all, while some may even need to be replaced.
Rabold stressed the simplicity and routine nature of these repairs, explaining that in another 25 years, they will examine the structure and evaluate any repairs that may be needed then.
“The good news is we found the right team to do it and the team’s doing it well — we’re not cutting corners,” said Rabold. “When we’re done, we shouldn’t have to worry about this for another 25 years.”