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Masonry Around the Nation

Mason Contractor:
Gallagher Masonry, Inc., Norton, Ohio

M. M. Konarski and The University of Akron Capital Planning and Facilities Management

General Contractor:
Stathos Construction and Engineering,
Akron, Ohio

In 1999, the University of Akron, led by Ted Curtis, AIA, NCARB, Vice President of Capital Planning and Facilities Management, embarked on a historic mission to expand its urban campus into a suburban setting. Titled the "New Landscape for Learning," this project included creating nine new buildings, 14 renovations, six to eight additions, infrastructure changes and landscaping.

landscaping masonryThe goal was to create a unified area that had the feel of a European villa — strong visual ties, sweeping rooflines and characteristically similar structures. The University was challenged, however, by the broad spectrum of buildings in various styles, shapes and sizes. Continuing the strong theme of red-brown brick, stone and glass utilized throughout the older parts of the campus, the University used masonry and landscaping to create the unification that they were looking for.

"Most of us admire the original part of the campus, many of which are red-brown brick with stone," Curtis says. "Brick gives us the continuity, versatility, the color, the permanence, and we couple that with stone, which brings in the traditional campus feeling. You can have a playful, but respectable, building."

    landscaping masonry

The old Spicer Hall

To make way for the new Student Recreation and Wellness Center/Athletic Field House structure, the University had to demolish Spicer Hall, an 80-year-old student services building that had outlived its usefulness. But Spicer Hall had a lot of history on the campus, as well as some unusual decorative materials.

landscaping masonry"Looking at that building, it had some wonderful architectural characteristics — terra cotta arches, pieces, coping — beautifully done and all designed by Akron architect Roy Firestone," says Curtis. "The terra cotta was too beautiful to go to the wrecking ball. So we cut all that terra cotta out, put them on pallets, and stored them for about two to three years."

With no real strategy envisioned for the Spicer Hall terra cotta, the University continued with the building of the 140,000-square-foot recreation center. It wasn't until after that section of the campus was completed that the University of Akron arches began in concept.

"We have this strong axis from the rec center diagonally across campus to the student union, a strong walkway and visual tie," Curtis explains. "Then all of a sudden it hit me."

The terra cotta pieces pulled from Spicer Hall years before, along with the red-brown brick theme to unify the campus, were a perfect fit to create three arches to accentuate this visual line. Gallagher Masonry, Inc., of Norton, Ohio, was brought in to make these arches a reality.

landscaping masonry"To be honest, I didn't know if I wanted to get involved with it," jokes Aaron Gallagher, Owner of Gallagher Masonry. "It sounded like a bunch of nonsense, but we got into it and it was really neat."

"The work was really slow," he continues. "The hardest part was to piece it all together, because there's a pattern that follows all the way around [the terra cotta], and each piece had to go in order. We went into the warehouse, laid them all out on the floor, figured out the pattern, numbered them, and then took them over to the job as we were building it and put them into place."

Given three months to complete all three arches, Gallagher Masonry completed the project from start to finish in six weeks.

"We get a lot of calls from that general contractor now," he adds.

landscaping masonry
Photo courtesy of Gallagher Masonry

With the arches completed, the University now has a centerpiece that exemplifies not only the campus' structural goals, but ties the school's strong historic past with its promising future. The arches are now a trademark for the school and used in its marketing literature — even a regional Super Bowl commercial — to advertise the University.

"We think that these arches have added this excitement to what I like to refer to as our new campus," says Curtis. "For the first time we have the feeling of a campus. So I like to look at this total project as a large architectural welcome mat."

Curtis explains that he has used a lot of brick during his 45 years in the business. His recent experiences, with the arches and the New Landscape for Learning, only serve to strengthen his admiration for the material and the people who work with it every day.

"We have wonderful mason contractors in this town, a lot of skilled people here. They do a wonderful job," he says. "We have more [buildings] coming, and we will continue to use brick."



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