The Decision to Demolish

msu11109They were built in the mid-1960s, when high-rise residence halls were becoming common on college campuses teeming with Baby Boomers. But four decades later, Gage Towers had become stuck in a time warp with no financially sensible way out.

The study leading to that conclusion began in 1998, when Minnesota State Mankato’s Department of Residential Life launched what would be five years of research by architects, engineers, facilities staff and others about what to do with Gage to best address the University’s needs for the next 40 years. Its debt would soon be retired. Should it be remodeled? If so, how—and at what cost?

As it turned out, those studies illuminated numerous obstacles toward renovation of the towers, which were completed in 1964 and 1965. The structure of the load-bearing walls in the hallway rendered any possibility of remodeling the basic double-room format into something more modern and student friendly impossible. The electrical, mechanical, plumbing and windows all needed replacement, and the structure of the building didn’t allow for modern heating and air conditioning systems. Estimates for renovating the two towers alone–not including the commons area in between–placed the cost near $40 million.

“The rooms were not up to the expectations that students and their families had,” says University President Richard Davenport. “They were outdated, but it was impossible to retrofit those rooms to modern-day standards, and to meet the needs of students.”

Gage’s distance from campus was also troubling. The towers’ lack of proximity to the center of campus was a disadvantage for students who lived there. So was the busy road they needed to cross every time they went to campus or returned home; Stadium Road had been the site of several car-pedestrian accidents over the years. “We have thousands of students crossing that street every day,” President Davenport says. “That’s a bit of a hazard, and we need to be a safer place.”

Gage 6 copyResidential Life Director Cynthia Janney also says that the design of the 12-story residence halls created an anonymity that wasn’t conducive to student performance, either academically or socially. “Upon arriving, it’s not human scale,” Janney says. “It doesn’t say, ‘Move in, you’re going to get to know people.’ It kind of says ‘There are a lot of people living here. You’re pretty anonymous.’”

A related issue is the layout of the rooms in the hallways, she adds. All of the rooms lined up on one side of the hall, across from a service core on the interior side. It added another layer of anonymity that resulted in such student behaviors as vandalism, which Gage experienced more than the other halls.

The question for Residential Life became clear:  “Should you spend that money to fix up the wrong building on the wrong location with the wrong kind of rooms, or should you say there are other kinds of things that students need,” Janney says. “We said it’s a better investment to build what students need for the future than put more money into this thing.”

To dispel any lingering doubts about the decision to decommission Gage, President Davenport directed the University’s facilities team to examine the building and file a report in 2011. That report also supported the decision to demolish.

The decision may seem drastic, since the towers appear to be in fine shape from the outside. But looks can be deceiving.

“When you drive by on the outside it looks like a perfectly good building,” Janney says. “You don’t know that the mechanical systems inside the building either need to be replaced or you need to get out of the building.”

The millions of stories from within Gage Towers will be told for decades to come; the 12 stories of Gage Towers will fall for good on June 29, 2013.