How 2 KU maintenance workers spent 130 hours rebuilding the doors to 2 historic campus buildings

photo by: Contributed/University of Kansas

KU painter Clint Johnston, left, and carpenter Jeremy Mills, right, pose at the new doors of Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus. Johnston and Mills undertook a project to reconstruct the doors to Strong Hall and Snow Hall.

The doorways to Strong and Snow halls — iconic University of Kansas buildings — are perhaps two of the more historic and photographed locations along Jayhawk Boulevard.

So when the doors themselves began to fall into disrepair, Shawn Harding, KU’s facility services director, knew something had to be done.

“I wish I could say they just needed a facelift, but they were actually failing to operate and secure correctly,” Harding told the Journal-World. “We had been trying different ways to fix them over the past few years, but they would break again in other ways. We knew they had to be replaced.”

Doing so turned out to be more of a challenge than simply putting out bids to area construction companies.

For starters, the doors would have to be custom-made — the Strong Hall doorway includes 18 windows and 234 panes of glass — and the bids KU received in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 for each pair of doors simply wasn’t feasible in a time when finances are already strained.

After those bids came in so high, Harding said the university explored the option of more standard commercial options, but “they would have looked terrible.”

The best option ultimately turned out to be KU’s facility workers taking on the job themselves. Carpenter Jeremy Mills and painter Clint Johnston jumped at the chance to assist on the project and restore fixtures of the KU campus, while saving the university thousands of dollars by keeping the reconstruction in-house.

“They knew they had the skill to do it, and we had confidence in them,” Harding said.

A university news release on the project said Mills and Johnston spent roughly 130 total hours on the construction, glass work and finishing for both sets of doorways. Harding said the project ended up with a significantly reduced cost of between $2,000 and $3,000 per doorway.

The Strong Hall doors, originally made of either hemlock or Douglas fir, are now constructed of a stain-grade pine. The new Snow Hall doors are made of oak, as were the originals.

“You can see the new doors are 100% authentic. No nails, no screws. They are tongue and groove,” Mills said in the news release. “Since junior high I’ve been a guy who likes to build things that make people go ‘wow.'”

Harding said that as facilities director, it was “awesome” to be a part of an in-house restoration project that will be apparent for the hundreds of students, families, alumni and more who take pictures in front of the buildings every semester.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges with our aging facilities on campus, and most of the time we’re fixing broken things. These were broken but it’s different — these guys got to use their skills and talents to create something timeless,” he said. “Jeremy put a lot of heart into these doors, especially the Snow Hall ones. If you haven’t seen them, it’s worth a trip to campus just to see them. Clint really did a nice job finishing them all out too. There’s a lot of pride in these doors, and it shows.”

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