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WRA's historic Athenaeum reopens after 14-month transformation

Published: August 24, 2014 12:00 AM
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Western Reserve Academy has completed renovations of the historic Athenaeum, with the iconic building reopening as a girls' dormitory for the 2014-15 academic year.

The 14-month, $5.7 million project transformed the building into a state-of-the-art facility that furthers the school's commitment to creating a residential life experience that is second to none. The project was the first major work since the 1950s done on the building, commonly referred to as The A.

The Athenaeum now boasts 14 dormitory rooms; a two-story faculty home on the first floor and a faculty apartment on the fourth floor; an elevator and exterior access ramp to make the building compliant with ADA Standards for Accessible Design; and an energy-efficient heating and air conditioning system.

"The renovation of the Athenaeum was a large project; the entire interior was removed and then rebuilt," said Christopher Burner, head of school and '80 graduate. "I am pleased that we maintained the historical nature of the building and greatly improved the student rooms and faculty apartments. The project highlights our commitment to residential education while maintaining the historical significance of the campus."

In addition to creating a better living space for students and faculty, the upgrades to the building will give the school greater control over energy costs.

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"The new heating and cooling system, along with the addition of LED lighting and an automated climate-control system, will result in a reduction in the school's carbon footprint," said Jeff Jacot, director of facilities. "This is the first building in an overall plan to monitor energy use across campus so that we can continue to responsibly manage our energy consumption."

Exterior work included new site utilities, as well as the replacement of just 250 square feet of brick out of the approximately 8,000 square feet on the 171-year old building.

Interior work included removal of all the interior walls, ceilings and floors, which were then reframed and rebuilt; lowering the basement floor two feet to create more space; and pouring concrete under the existing foundation to provide additional support.

All told, workers removed nearly 2 million pounds of debris from the site, with more than 65 percent of the debris being recycled rather than placed in landfills.

The Athenaeum, located on the northern end of WRA's Brick Row, has served numerous purposes for students and faculty since its construction in 1843. It started out as Western Reserve College's natural science building, housed the first chemistry lab in the state of Ohio for students, served as the hub for Professor Edward Morley's successful wiring of the campus to send telegraph messages between buildings in the 1870s, and has been home to a natural science museum, a boardroom for trustees, classrooms, and WRA's first school library.

Once James W. Ellsworth acquired the campus in 1912, the Athenaeum received numerous updates, including a reconfiguration to accommodate four stories. The Athenaeum reopened in 1917 as a boys' dormitory for freshmen and sophomores. The Athenaeum still serves as a dormitory today, having already opened its doors to faculty and officially welcoming students back to campus on Aug. 10.

To learn more, visit wra.net.

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