By Richard Harris
Renovation of Flagler’s Art Building is under way and expected to move the 120-year-old structure into the 21st century.
The fully renovated, handicap accessible, technologically advanced building and annex is anticipated to open September 2007.
The Building, formerly home to artists such as Martin Johnson Heade and Felix de Crano, is the last part of the historic hotel complex to undergo rehabilitation. It was an update greatly needed according to Art Department Chair Chris Smith.
“It’s a really exciting and positive step forward for the college,” he said.
Construction started on the two-phase, $5 million project in May. With the first stage underway, an orange fence has been erected, like a monument to construction, blocking off portions of the West Lawn.
The first stage involves the adaptation of the Boiler Room. The roof of the one-story structure will be raised to accommodate a second floor, giving the Art Department an additional 2,300 square feet for drawing and painting studios.
The project experienced a six-week setback after the discovery of a foundation that Flagler Representative for Construction Frank Riggle believes may have supported the hotel’s generators.
Upon removal of the foundation, the south wall of the building became unstable and was reinforced with temporary exterior supports.
“There was no rebar at that time,” Riggle said of the 1887 construction date of the hotel. Once the new roof is constructed and beams put into place, the wall will be sufficiently supported.
Also unanticipated during construction was the discovery of hazardous “oil sludge” from the old boiler room, which required proper disposal.
“Piping was never removed that had connected the fuel storage tanks to the boiler system and product in the lines seeped into the ground when pipes busted,” Riggle said.
The subtance never worked its way to the surface or into the water system. Riggle states there is no danger from it.
“We’ve tested it and were very lucky,” he said. “It basically just coagulated beneath the surface.”
The surprise discovery cost the college an additional $45,000 for removal fees.
Along with the renovation of the Boiler Room, an addition onto the east of the structure will contain Art Department faculty offices and an elevator, as well as space for the campus maintenance department. Completion of phase one is expected in January. Phase two of the renovation is set to begin in April with the rehabilitation of the original Art Building.
Plans include eliminating the current dark room and creating a new digital photography studio on the second floor. Smith believes the change will be beneficial to students.
“In the field of graphic design, digital photography is all they’ll ever use. There is a priority toward digital,” he said. Currently, only graphic design majors are required to take a photography course.
The overall renovation is expected not only to improve Art Department facilities, but also course offerings.
“With the additional studio space that we’ll gain, we hope to add new sections of existing classes and new electives for students to choose from,” Smith said.
He hopes to expand the Web design course and add new media courses such as animation and film editing and production.
“We’re not only coming into the 21st century in the reuse of the building, but the quality of the educational programs as well,” Associate Director of Development Leslee Keys said.
During renovations, a safe, dated circa 1895, was revealed in a vault room in the lower portion of the building. After a 12-hour move, it is now on display across from security in Ponce Hall.
A second safe, removed from the dark room, was donated to Historic Tours of America. The use of the safes has only been speculated, but Keys believes they were in use during the early hotel years.