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Built in 1961, Kansas University's Burt Hall was the home to a small experimental nuclear reactor for decades. Now it's a pile of high- and low-tech rubble.
Burt's demolition over the past few months is part of an ambitious $80 million makeover for the KU School of Engineering complex that will include two new buildings, six voluminous classrooms, teaching labs, research facilities and a renovated library.
JoAnn Browning, associate dean for administration at the KU engineering school, said she and school administration searched for ways to somehow reuse Burt Hall. They even brainstormed uses for the concrete shell of the long ago-removed reactor. But the building's heating and cooling systems were so worn, and the building itself in such bad shape, that Browning said it made more fiscal sense to raze it.
"In the end it really was cheaper if we tore it all down and started over," she said.
She added that staff interviewed students and faculty to make sure that nobody had strong sentimental attachment to the building before proceeding. "We never got a peep out of anyone distraught about it being torn down."
The demolition process took several months because of safety precautions. Although the reactor was removed in the early 1990s, workers had to comb the building to search for any remaining radioactive material from the days when the reactor was active. Browning said she knew of no traces of radiation that were found.
In part of the space where Burt once stood will be new research labs. They will be part of an arm connecting the revamped Learned Hall to the new M2SEC building. The rest of the space under the demolished Burt Hall, including the site of the old reactor, will be green space, handicapped parking and bike racks.
The destruction and construction is all part of an expansion of the engineering campus and program as a whole. Along with the new building on KU's main campus will be another new facility on the west campus for student projects and experiments on large-scale structural systems. Altogether, the two new structures will add 135,000 square feet of classroom, laboratory and office space.
It all comes at a cost of $80 million. Of that, $35 million will be funded through state bonds approved by the legislature in 2011. The rest will come through philanthropy, with the university picking up whatever is left of the tab, Browning said.
With the expansion, the school will hire 30 additional faculty members, whose salaries are not included in the $80 million price tag. With the new faculty and facilities, Browning and the engineering school anticipate they will draw in more students to the engineering program, and their tuition in turn will help pay the cost of the construction.
For current students and faculty confused by blocked entrances, leveled buildings and any power and water outages necessary for construction, a website should go live by Aug. 19 to provide regular updates on construction activities.
"Communication is vitally important to all this," Browning said.