Macalester’s longest-standing structure, Old Main, was built in 1885. From then to 1986, a good chunk of Mac’s history, its windows stood the test of time, surviving Minnesota’s often erratic weather patterns admirably.
At long last, the original windows were replaced, but Old Main’s second set of windows did not prove to be as hardy as the first.
“They [the windows] were replaced in 1986 with wood windows from Marvin Windows,” Facilities Director Nathan Lief said. “They’re failing at an alarming rate. The preservative used on the wood was apparently faulty, resulting in premature rot.”
David Wheaton, Macalester’s Vice President for Administration and Finance, explained that the windows’ issues became apparent not too long after installation.
“We also replaced all the windows in the library last summer—it’s related. The library, Old Main, and Carnegie were all renovated around the same time in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Wheaton said. “We began to notice window problems in the late ’90s, and discussed the issue with the manufacturer and suppliers.”
The issue has been on Mac’s radar for well over a decade, but the window structures had only recently taken a substantial turn for the worse.
“The Facilities folks who repair the windows on every building noticed that the deterioration seemed to be spreading and accelerating. It had gotten to the point where if we’d decided to replace windows one at a time, the building would have had a patchwork look,” Wheaton said. “We recommended to the board to replace the windows a building at a time with aluminum-clad windows, which will have a really long life.”
Old Main’s historic status dictated that the college submit the project for review before it could become reality.
“Old Main is subject to oversight by the Summit Avenue West Historic Preservation District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This means that any changes to the building’s exterior are subject to the review and approval of the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Committee,” Lief said.
Mac won approval to move forward, with a few stipulations and changes in the new windows’ design and appearance.
Per the historical regulations, Mac needed to show that Old Main’s appearance would not be damaged by the changes. During the research and review process, new insights regarding the appearance of Old Main’s original windows surfaced.
“We found that using the pure white frames like we have now is actually not historically consistent, and as a result, we have to choose from three different brown/tan colors.
It’s a reminder of the level of detail required when dealing with historic buildings,” Wheaton said. Lief and the Historic Preservation Committee unearthed multiple previously unknown facts that led to brown window frames being required.
“We found that the original windows did not appear to have screens or storm windows, so the approved new windows will not either. We also found that the window [frames] were a darker color originally and were not painted white until 1946,” Lief said.
Due to these findings, the new windows, although similar to the current ones, will not have screens and will feature the previously mentioned brown color. The interior of the extruded aluminum windows will be painted wood color to match the building’s existing trim. The replacement of Old Main’s diverse set of windows will be started after most students have left campus this year.
“The work will take place over the summer, as in the case of the library, which went quickly and smoothly with minimal disruption. We’re hoping we can do the same thing with Old Main,” Wheaton said. “Commencement and Reunion will take place, and we’ll get started after that. We think that time frame will work for us.”
Facilities and Marvin Windows, the company which manufactured the faulty 1986 replacements, have worked to ensure Old Main’s third set of windows have a lifespan closer to the first set than the second.
“Marvin has worked closely with us to find a long term quality replacement and have offered discounted pricing that has made it possible. Some light changes to the profiles will be made to enhance watertightness, reduce maintenance and extend the life of the new windows,” Lief said. The windows will help make Old Main more energy-efficient as well. Carnegie, which also faces window issues, may be dealt with soon as well.
“We have not asked the Board yet for Carnegie, but it was in the original memo we sent to them regarding the window issues in the three buildings (library, Old Main, Carnegie). It will probably be addressed next,” Wheaton said. “The only other building that may have challenged windows is Weyerhauser, but only certain ones and not all the way around.”
The $740,000 project was financed by accumulated reserve money. Future maintenance and renovation initiatives across campus are planned for and addressed by Facilites.
“We are continually replacing, maintaining, and refurbishing the physical assets on campus. We have a detailed 10 year plan that prioritizes projects according to current condition, expected useful life, and how the item fits into the college’s long term plans,” Lief said.
Other major construction projects on campus this summer include the replacement of Dupre’s aged roof.
Dealing with the approximately 7,600 windows in all of Mac’s campus buildings is certainly a daunting task, but by next fall, the maintenance of 245 of those windows will be far easier, and the exterior appearance of Old Main will be closer to 1885 than it has been in over 60 years.