Historic Art Building to be renovated

Monica Herndon//Staff Photographer
Monica Herndon//Staff Photographer

After more than a decade in dilapidation and disrepair, the historic Art Building at the north end of campus is undergoing a tedious renovation process.

The two-story, wooden building was built after World War II to accommodate returning veterans. After nearly 20 years of complaints by students and faculty, however, the structure was deemed unsafe in 2003. As a result, the building had been fenced off until the renovations began last November.

The construction is expected to take about a year, said Richard Phillips, who works for the general contractor, Turn Key Construction. The goal is to make the building structurally sound.

“We are reusing the historic wood as much as we can, but because of hurricane requirements, we have to replace certain structural elements of the building with new materials,” Phillips said.

Once the work is done, the building will house several College of Arts and Sciences departments, according to Mark Diaz, associate vice president for budget and planning, through the UM media relations office.

It is unlikely that art will be one of the  departments that moves into the renovated building, said Lise Drost, the chair of the department of art and art history. This is because the art department is now housed in the new Studio Arts Complex, near the Alumni Center.

“While we were all very fond of the tropical wooden buildings, the faculty and students are really pleased with the new facilities because it brings so many of the studio areas into close contact,” she said.

The painting annex, also known as building 3, will mostly likely be demolished soon, according Drost. The remaining building, which houses the photography and graphic design departments, will continue to be used. The project stems from a 2010 decision by the Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board, which required the university to preserve and maintain the historical integrity of the building.

The Art Building is a part of a collection of wooden structures informally known as “the shacks.” Constructed from disassembled military barracks, the shacks were intended as temporary classrooms for the many students who enrolled at UM after the passage of a 1944 law that provided benefits to returning World War II veterans.

Over the years, the Art Building was used by campus administrators and later, the art department. It is the only one of the three remaining “shacks” designated as historic.