Historic College building undergoes 'corrective' restoration

A construction crew at work on the west wall of the Administration Building

A construction crew at work on the west wall of the Administration Building

Aging wall is dismantled and rebuilt.


The Roanoke College Administration Building holds the distinction as the oldest structure on the College campus. Built in 1847 as a square, two-story box, the building has undergone several renovations over the decades, yet maintained its stately, signature presence on the College campus.

The most recent renovation - or better, restoration - began in August 2011. It is a two-phase project that includes replacement of the building's deteriorating chimney and, probably the more substantial of the two phases, replacement of the building's west wall.

The west wall has been bowed - bulging out of vertical alignment about 4 inches - for some time. The wall, which faces Miller Hall, has been monitored on a regular basis. Efforts to reinforce it in the 1980s worked well for many years but recent examination by engineers showed additional movement. Replacing the wall became the only prudent option.

So on Nov. 2, work crews, under the guidance of the Blacksburg, Va.-based OWPR architecture and engineering firm, started work to dismantle the old wall and build a new one.

The wall, fortunately, was not weight-bearing. But dismantling it brick by historic brick required a painstakingly careful process, according to Randy Jones, chief executive officer for OWPR.

The original bricks, Jones said, "were so deteriorated that you could crumble them with your hand." Those that were intact have been saved.

The Salem-based Old Virginia Brick manufactured new bricks, essentially re-creating the original brick. They so closely resemble the original that it's tough to distinguish the old from the new.

Because the old brick wall sat directly on dirt, excavation was necessary to provide a concrete footing for a new concrete masonry foundation wall to sit on. The new brick is being anchored to the foundation wall with a product called "brick ties."

Wall construction is expected to be completed by February. Chimney work - also a project of OWPR, with R.L. Price Construction as general contractor - was completed in November.

The Administration Building houses the offices of the president, the dean of the College, the registrar, the director of International Education, the director of General Education and the executive director of Institutional Research. It is one of the dozen or so oldest buildings in the city of Salem. The Main Campus Complex, which includes the Administration Building, Miller Hall, Trout Hall and Bittle Hall, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

The Administration Building project is not OWPR's first for Roanoke College. The firm has provided architectural and engineering services for the College on a number of projects, including additions and renovations to Trout Hall, Miller Hall, Lucas Hall, CAR Residence Hall, Chesapeake Residence Hall, the Market Street Complex, the Kerr Stadium, the new tennis courts on Elizabeth Campus and the new central stairway in front of Massengill Auditorium.

The Administration Building project, Jones said, "has been interesting - like peeking inside the history of the building."

Roanoke College, a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just seven percent of colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society.