By Liz Friden
In the beginning of his sophomore year, John Connolly, a class of 2019 politics major, received an email that his classes in Marist Hall would have to be evacuated. A few of his classes were moved to other locations on campus and his politics professors announced their new offices in the law school. Connolly is now finishing up his junior year, and Marist is still empty.
On September 29th, 2016 a University Communications email was sent to all members of the university community announcing that cracks had appeared in the west wing of Marist in the prior eight weeks. The Office of Facilities Planning and Management announced that “affected classes scheduled in Marist Hall will be relocated to other classrooms on campus, effective Monday, October 3rd“.
The west wing of Marist Hall was subsequently evacuated. All its classes were relocated to other parts of campus, but the east wing offices stayed.
This is the second time Marist has been evacuated. The earthquake in August of 2011 caused the building to be unsound for the rest of that year’s fall semester. The damages were not noticed until after the first day of classes had met.
That year, the Politics Department offices and classes were moved to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Unlike with their offices in Marist Hall, professors had to share these offices, making it difficult to get work done. Classes were moved to the theaters of the Shrine, which were not meant to be classrooms. Some students had to cross Harewood Drive in the dark because their class got out so late.
John White is an American politics professor who has been teaching at Catholic for over 25 years. White said that when the 2011 earthquake happened, Catholic had earthquake insurance but it was still difficult to get the coverage.
“Repairs were delayed because the insurance company thought the damage was from the age of the building and not the earthquake,” White said.
After getting coverage, the damages only took a semester to fix. Unlike the situation now, it was a temporary change.
Margaret Carney is now the University Architect. Working under Facilities, and now under Advancement, she has worked closely with those who have tested the building and in April of 2017 ultimately decided that the use of Marist Hall was unsafe and it would have to be evacuated. It was used for that first month of school because people did not realize the cracks were as deep as the structure of the building.
For the remainder of the 2017 spring semester professors permanently relocated their offices from the west wing and the east wing. The Archeology Department moved to the first floor of Hannan. The Politics Department moved to the fourth floor of the Columbus School of Law. The Media Studies Department moved to the basement of the Crough Center.
White said that “the move to the Law School has been totally disruptive”. This is the second time he has had to move his office out of Marist Hall, but this is the first time he has had to do so permanently, completely emptying out his office for good.
David Clark is an anthropology professor who had to empty his office as well. He has spent 37 years of his career teaching in Marist Hall. With the existence of Marist Hall threatened, he has fought to preserve the building for its historic significance.
“Marist is different because of it’s extant, standing architecture,” Clark said of the building, which was built in 1899. “It is a wonderful old building that has accommodated numerous departments, but more importantly, students over the past eons at CUA.”
Clark cares about the building where he says he has taught more than 3,000 students, calling it his “home away from home”.
However, White assured that Marist was “by no means a perfect building”. Historically, one of Marist’s biggest problems was its inability to accommodate the disabled.
White highlighted one of his colleagues, Dennis Coyle, who for many years was unable to have an office on the same floor as the other politics professors due to the inaccessibility of the third-floor offices. Coyle’s office was on the first floor, and just to get on the first floor of the building, one would have to go around to the back of it and use the ramp.
Carney explained the complex status of the building.
“Renovation for reuse would be very costly. The cost is being weighed carefully and compared with the cost and value of new construction,” Carney said. “The university is not anxious to take down any of the historic buildings on campus and continues to weigh the pros and cons very thoughtfully.’’
If Marist were to be demolished someday, there are some components to it, such as ornamental stone, that could potentially be salvaged for reuse, but the university is not currently exploring that direction.
It is unclear what could have been done differently to repair them, but White said, “The easiest decision for an administrator to make is deferred maintenance.”