By Mark Strom
According to the 2012 FSU Capital Master Plan, “demolition of the above grade portion of Crocker Hall” is recommended due to the fact that necessary renovations are considered to be “financially infeasible.”
Warren Fairbanks, associate vice president of facilities and capital planning, said these renovations would have addressed some “serious problems with the building.”
“It doesn’t meet today’s standards for access or today’s standards for safety and structural integrity,” said Fairbanks.
According to Fairbanks, the initial planning began in 2006, when the Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) and “a design firm” studied the building as part of the study phase.
Construction projects undergo a three-phase process: a study phase to determine an initial cost estimate, a design phase where various components of the project and associated cost estimates are examined in detail, and a construction phase, in which the plans are implemented.
According to Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, the project went “all the way through” the design phase, with the state having allocated $9 million for the renovations.
Hamel said it was determined that “a significant amount of work would be required to bring that facility up to code. ... When we got done [with the study], essentially the only piece of the building that we didn’t have to repair or replace was the roof.”
Necessary renovations would include the addition of an elevator, changing the foundation from stone- rubble to concrete, and replacing the building’s brick facade.
Hamel said, “At that point ... the state came to the conclusion that it isn’t a cost-e\ective building to renovate” and funding for the renovations was pulled.
Fairbanks said because of this, the project came to a halt until “Dr. Hamel came up with a good idea,” which involved purchasing O’Connor Hall from the Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA) and converting it from a residence hall to academic offices.
According to Hamel, “Residence halls are owned by the MSCBA, while our other facilities are owned by the Commonwealth.”
The plan, according to Fairbanks, would be to move Crocker Hall’s existing offices into O’Connor Hall following the proposed re-purposing.
Hamel said this plan was approved, and in 2008, the commonwealth transferred $7 million to MSCBA “as an ‘equity payment’ for the future repositioning of O’Connor Hall.
“We have subsequently received an additional $2.4 million from the state for upgrades to the HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system in O’Connor,” added Hamel. The HVAC renovations cost $3 million – the additional $600,000 came from the college operations budget – and were completed in the summer of 2013.
“It needed to be done anyways, and the students are actually going to benefit for a couple of years on the shoulder season in terms of the A/C that’s in there,” said Hamel.
He added that “accessibility issues” such as the need for an elevator will be addressed in summer 2015, and “we’ll be doing renovations for such things as the restrooms” in summer 2016.
He said these projects are estimated to cost $3.3 million, which will come from “retained revenues.”
According to Hamel, the total cost estimate for the overall repositioning is estimated to be $13.3 million.
He said the repositioning project is anticipated to be completed in fall 2016. This will allow it to “coincide with the opening of the new residence hall” on Maynard Road.
In terms of cost, Hamel said the new residence hall is currently estimated to be a “$37 million project.”
Hamel noted that the new residence hall would be the “second domino” in a series of related projects.
“The first domino is new parking, so that the second domino is the new residence hall, which would go on the parking that is going to be displaced,” said Hamel. “The third domino is moving people from O’Connor to the new residence hall, and the fourth one is [moving offces] from Crocker to O’Connor Hall.”
Fairbanks said, “This begs the question, ‘What do we do with Crocker Hall?’” He added FSU has spent $36,000 from the college’s operation budget for “minor repairs” to the windows and gutters, but there are not sufficient funds for complete renovations.
According to Hamel, a study will occur in 2015 to confirm whether demolition of Crocker Hall is the best way to proceed.
If Crocker Hall is demolished, Fairbanks and Hamel said it would most likely be converted into green space.
Nora Chan, a sophomore English major, said, “I think it’d be great to add more green space to campus, especially after tearing down Larned Beach.”
Taylor Lahiiff, a freshman history major, said, “This campus is very clustered as it is, so that might help if there might be more green space. If they could make more space around campus and still be able to move the facilities [in Crocker Hall to] somewhere else, I think that would be a logical idea.”
According to Fairbanks, something that needs to be taken into account is the fact that the basement of Crocker Hall serves as a “mini-hub” for various infrastructural components, including Eber optic cables, electrical systems, steam pipes, telephone lines, water lines and maintenance tunnels.
Fairbanks explained that the basement can’t just be “filled in.” In order to preserve the campus’ infrastructure, the various components would need to be rerouted.
“It’s certainly do-able,” said Fairbanks, “but I’m thinking it would be less expensive to build a patio over it [the basement] in some fashion.”
He added that he feels a patio “would be nice, because it would open up Crocker Grove ... to State Street. You’d be able to look up and see Dwight Hall, which is kind of a nice building.”
According to Fairbanks, there are two ways to provide “heat and electricity.” He said all the buildings “on the west side of State Street”, as well as the McCarthy center, Peirce and Horace Mann halls, run on a “centralized approach.”
This means that the buildings have pipes that connect to the power plant. The pipes for McCarthy, Peirce and Horace Mann run through the basement of Crocker Hall.
He said the other approach is “non-centralized,” which means power is provided from boilers within the buildings themselves. He said this approach is a “more modern” one, used in the newer buildings on the east side of State Street.
Fairbanks said if the utilities underneath Crocker Hall were eliminated, “We’d have to put a boiler in Peirce, Horace Mann, and in the McCarthy Center, so that would cost a lot more than rerouting the piping.”
Mary Brinkmann, a senior psychology and education major, said, “Crocker Hall is a really old building and it’s not accessible to every student. ... I don’t know if there’s any historical relevance, but it just seems like if there’s not, it would be a good idea.”
Fairbanks said, “People think it’s a historic building, but ... in my mind, it’s not [historically] significant at all. It’s been extensively changed from its original structure.”
According to Hamel, Crocker Hall was built with wooden framing and a stone foundation. He said it was “probably meant to be a 50-year building, and obviously beyond 50 years, we’re still using it.”
Crocker Hall – named after Lucretia Crocker – was built in 1886 as a residence hall. It was converted into academic offices in 1973, and is the oldest building on campus.
Crocker Hall was damaged by a Ere in 1887 on Christmas Eve. After being rebuilt, it was damaged again in 1938 by a hurricane.
Kara Simmons, a freshman psychology major, said, “It’s [Crocker] an old building, and I think we need to see a change. It’s old and unique, but it’s time to be changed to [something] new.”
Fairbanks said, “I know the faculty that are in the building generally like their offices because they’re large,” but “[it’s] probably not the most comfortable building to be in. There’s a lot of problems with it, as you can see by walking through it.”
Mary Rogers, a professor of management who was on the committee which examined the viability of restoring Crocker Hall, has had offices in there for 26 years.
She said demolishing Crocker Hall is “definitely a di_cult decision to make,” but “the inability to actually restore it” makes demolition the most financially practical solution, regardless of “whether it’s a good idea or not.”
Rogers added, “The building holds lots of wonderful memories of friendships brought about through frequent contact within the quirky building, and I will be sad to see it demolished.”
When Fairbanks was asked if he was in favor of demolishing the building, he said, “I really don’t have a huge opinion on that – I’m just looking at this from a pragmatic viewpoint. If the money was available, I’d love to see it renovated.”
He noted that if Crocker were to be fully renovated, the university would most likely have to borrow money. According to Fairbanks, “Whenever the University borrows money, the students end up paying for it.
“If the students ... want to support that type of investment,” Fairbanks added, “that’s something that could be looked into.”
He added that another possibility would be to construct a new building on Crocker Hall’s site.
“It frankly would be cheaper to demolish Crocker Hall and build a new one the exact same size than it would be to renovate Crocker Hall,” said Fairbanks. “I can say that with a fair amount of certainty.”