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Dec. 21, 2004


Lewisburg, Pa. — Creating a preservation plan that centers on Bucknell's historic buildings and 1930s-era campus master plan will benefit more than the campus itself — it will also give several Bucknell art history and engineering majors a rare opportunity to do hands-on preservation work and to explore the thorny questions that often surround historic preservation.

For instance, what stage of the building do you want to preserve? How has the building evolved over the years? What impact does the building have on the surrounding community? How do you make sure a historic building retains its architectural and historic significance while still meeting the university's current needs? How do you preserve the buildings' exteriors and make sure the buildings are structurally sound?

"You don't want to work in a building restored to its 1850s condition," says Mary Brantl, a visiting assistant professor of art history at Bucknell from 1999 to 2004 and now a consultant on the project. "Think of the plumbing. And it wouldn't meet current fire codes, or today's information technology needs. What about the water supply, and the durability and strength of the building materials? There are a lot of practical issues that have to be dealt with."

Throughout the project, both the art history and the engineering majors will have some choice in the parts of the project they tackle, and while that hasn't been determined yet, their areas of interest and activity will probably overlap to some extent.

But overall, the art and art history majors will focus on the social context of the buildings: How were the buildings used? Since the uses and appearances of the buildings changed over the years, what stage of each building's development is most worth preserving? How can the buildings be used most effectively now?

The engineering majors are expected to look at available construction drawings, determine how the buildings were put together, work with an architectural firm consulting on the project, and help do visual inspections and some physical testing, focusing mainly on the buildings' brick and stone exteriors. They'd also have input into the best future uses of the buildings.

In spring 2005, six students are scheduled to do independent study with Brantl (and gain academic credit for course work at the 300 level) related to the project. Two of the six are civil engineering majors also pursuing a major or minor in the art and art history program; one is already active as the student representative to the project's steering committee. The four other students are art history majors with established interests in architecture and conservation issues.

In summer 2005, two art/art history majors and two civil and environmental engineering majors will work on the project with Brantl and Stephen G. Buonopane, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. With the input of the engineering students, art history student researchers will prepare a mock application to the National Register of Historic Buildings and hold a debate about the impact a listing on the Register would have for the building and the campus.

"There's a whole range of possibilities as to how the buildings could be used in the future," says Buonopane. "We would take our cues from existing university plans for development and renovation. We wouldn't repeat that process. We would fit into it. For instance, if you plan to do a particular project, given that this is the state of the masonry on the outside, what sort of action will you take? Within the context of the university's own facilities plans, we want to look at engineering issues specifically that relate to preservation."

During the 2005-06 academic year, several civil engineering students will use Getty project buildings as the basis for work that will count as a senior design project at the 400 level. "The idea is to have a realistic engineering project that enables the students to tie together the education they received here and apply it to a real-world project," says Buonopane.

As the project winds down, all the students will be involved in evaluating the recommendations of the project team, which will be presented to a steering committee for review. The committee will hold an open forum for the Bucknell and Lewisburg communities, at which the consulting firm's recommendations will be presented for public comment.

The project will benefit the art history majors "because it's practical, it's hands-on," says Brantl. At Bucknell, students usually have to study art from slides or digital images. "But these are the real structures, and these are buildings the students know. If you know that a building was a residence hall in 1910, how would that work (in terms of developing a plan for preserving and using the building in generations to come)? Having the students work on this project will put these questions on the table in a very real way."

Buonopane expects that the engineering majors will be able to work with the consulting firm, accompanying its employees on building inspections and interacting with the professional engineers. "We try to make our (classroom-based) engineering projects as real as possible, but the classroom is different from the real world. The chance to be involved in a real-world engineering project is invaluable."

The project highlights the university's interest in historic preservation, Buonopane says. "We need to respect these buildings, because they represent something about the people who built them and used them. In the same sense that an archaeologist digs up pottery out of the ground to learn about the people who made and used it, we can learn from the buildings that were here 100 years ago and are still with us. It's important that we leave them here for future generations to learn from as well."

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