University Of Illinois Restores Historic Armory’s Façade

The Armory serves an anchor point for the university’s south campus and used for track and field meets, among other events.

facade renovation
Photo by Josh Woolard, provided by Western Specialty Contractors

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign restored the brick and stone façade of its historic Armory—home to the Fighting Illini track and field team.

“This project performed masonry restoration and roof replacement on a portion of the 1926 addition to the Armory, and which has had very little maintenance in the last 97 years,” says Donna McClure, ARCHITECT, Facilities and Services for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Physical Plant Services Building. “The parapets (and the roof) were in particularly poor condition causing leaks inside the building. The University knew from past projects that roofing replacement alone would not solve the problem. The solution had to include disassembly and reconstruction of the parapets and include proper through wall flashing as part of the reconstruction.”

facade renovation
Photo by Josh Woolard, provided by Western Specialty

The Armory was originally designed by William Carbys Zimmerman as a military drill hall, athletic facility, and assembly hall. Constructed in 1912-14, the building was once the largest free-span, no-center-support-system structure in the world. In 1927, a multi-story addition designed by Charles A. Platt was built around the building adding classroom and office space. Its facade matches the Georgian Revival style found in nearby university buildings such as the Main Library and Huff Hall. Today, the Armory is an anchor point for the university’s south campus and used for track and field meets and other events.

The university worked with Western Specialty Contractors‘s Springfield, IL branch for this reconstruction project, alongside White & Borgognoni Architects of Carbondale, IL and Rubinos & Mesia Engineers of Chicago, IL.

Western contracted with project general contractor Grunloh Construction of Effingham, IL to tuckpoint the Armory’s east elevation as well as portions of its north and south elevations. The scope of work also included the demolition and rebuilding of an existing parapet wall using block masonry, salvaged stone, and fabricated stone that closely matched existing stone.

facade renovation
Photo by Josh Woolard, provided by Western Specialty Contractors

The severity of deterioration on the upper areas of some masonry walls required a change in scope to completely rebuild additional parapet locations. Due to irregular dimensions of the parapet wall, additional demolition and rebuild work had to be completed in order to maintain the structural integrity of the masonry walls.

“The biggest challenge the project faced was the large number of hidden conditions that required extensive remedial action,” says McClure. “One example of this is the parapet on the north tower. Outwardly the stone on the parapet appeared to be in serviceable condition, and the original scope called for the stone to be pointed.

“As the roofers began peeling off the roof membrane, it became apparent that the brick back up behind the stone was in poor condition with almost no mortar bond between the bricks. The brick back up literally moved as the roofers pulled back the membrane.”

facade renovation
Photo by Josh Woolard, provided by Western Specialty Contractors

Western’s craftsmen also replaced damaged brick on the façade discovered during tuckpointing with salvaged brick from the parapet demolition and installed custom-blend brick in other locations where salvaged brick could not be used.

“Each of these discovered conditions led to delays while processing change orders,” says McClure. “This delayed project schedule caused another challenge for the masonry contractor. Rebuilding the tower parapet had to be done in the winter, and a temporary heated enclosure had to be constructed to permit the work to proceed.

“Overcoming the challenges depended on teamwork between all the members of the construction team,” says McClure continues. “The architect and owner had to respond a quickly as possible to each new condition to design the remedial work, and the contractors had to move quickly to provide pricing. The contractors also had to be extremely flexible in their scheduling.”

Approximately six tuckpointing mockup locations were completed in order to match the existing facade as closely as possible and maintain the historic nature of the building. In order to match the existing mortar, additional sand was added per the petrographic testing results and the mortar was brushed with special care while still damp to expose additional aggregate.

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