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Martin Methodist College, Fine Arts Center

A neglected, historic gymnasium is renovated into a new fine arts showpiece

Amazing... Transformed into a treasure... Great remodel of historic building!

Repurposing a 79-year-old building for 21st century needs requires a balance between preservation and innovation. Martin Methodist’s Virginia and Thomas Gault Fine Arts Center spotlights the historic single-story gymnasium’s metal roof trusses, arena lights and original floor, while boasting new light-filled art classrooms, a concert auditorium, art gallery and geothermal heating and cooling. The new building is an invigorating rescue of what could have become a forgotten landmark—an active, reimagined space for students and alumni alike.

 

 

What role does history play in the project story?

Patrick Gilbert: Martin Methodist College was founded in 1870 but this is the only historic building remaining on their campus. Other buildings have burned over time or for other reasons are gone, so this is really the only connection that older alumni have to the Martin Methodist College that they remember. Renovating the building created an opportunity for this connection to continue into the future.

Was it difficult to find a balance between the past and the future?

Patrick: It actually was a little easier than it might seem. The client already had an idea of what they wanted to reuse the building for—fine arts and music. The program for those two different types of spaces split the building in half, and those needs fit into the building pretty easily. However, when the client brought us the needs for the building and the program, we added everything up and figured out how many square feet we needed. It was about twice what would fit. Luckily with this being a gymnasium and a really tall one-story building, we determined fairly quickly we could insert a second floor, providing us enough square footage that everything would fit. We created a box within a box.

Ryan: The existing structure was only adequate enough to support itself, so we inserted new columns in the building to handle the load of the second floor.

How did you fit the concert auditorium downstairs?

Patrick: It worked well to put the art rooms on the second floor and the music-related spaces on the first floor. This building was constructed in the 1930s when most buildings had a crawl space below the first floor, which this building had. We recessed the auditorium down into the existing crawl space. We filled the balance of the crawl space with gravel and poured a concrete slab, which is more typical of how you construct the first floor in a building today. So the auditorium’s sloped floor fit in beautifully and we actually did not have to excavate anything to install it.

Also, it allowed the building to be handicap accessible. As you come in on the first floor, you enter at the high point of the auditorium. We sloped the floor just enough to allow the entire auditorium to be wheelchair accessible.

And the large second-floor windows that are original to the building provide great light for the art classrooms.

Patrick: That did work out nicely. When this building was constructed there were not very many light fixtures inside the building, so they relied on those large windows to provide natural light.

When we determined we could install a second floor in the building, the location of those windows above the original balcony fit perfectly. It aligned with the floor exactly, just like we needed it to, and our decision to put the art classrooms on the second floor was partially because of those giant windows. It allowed these incredible light-filled classrooms for the art spaces and for us to not have to change any of the window locations to keep the building looking the same on the exterior.

But it was a bit of serendipity that the quality of the light on the second floor would be so amazing. We would never have installed windows that large in a new building.

Really?

Patrick: Typically you do not. These windows go almost to the floor and in classroom buildings you typically are more inwardly focused and you have natural light for the sake of having natural light, but you do not typically put windows that go all the way to the floor.

The windows are one example of original elements that remained or were reused, but a more notable example is the lobby floor made of reused gymnasium flooring.

Patrick: At the very beginning we decided we must maintain some of the historic features and interior architecture that alumni can relate to. The gymnasium roof trusses, round light fixtures and original flooring are several things that we reused.

Ryan: And actually the reuse of the flooring with the old basketball striping was pure accident. The original plans called to salvage the flooring, sand it down and refinish it. We installed it as it was and was going to refinish it, but the installer realized that it was beautiful just as it was.

Patrick: Yes. The installer looked at what he did and realized that it was something special. He then called the contractor and our client to look at the unplanned patterns. It became found art. Though we did always intend to reuse the floor, we just assumed we would sand it, refinish it and say it is the gymnasium floor. But it just became such a strong focal point of this building. I have never seen art like this appear just out of nothing.

Did the planned reuse of materials greatly impact waste reduction?

Ryan: A lot of times construction, especially during a renovation, is a very wasteful process in terms of energy consumption and material waste. What we were able to do was preserve the structure and many of its design elements, therefore preserving the architectural character of the existing building while reducing the need for new materials.

Patrick: Right. The building was basically a big empty box, so there was very little demolition and construction waste. We were able to basically come inside of an empty box and insert a new floor.

Aside from reuse and waste reduction, you also made some substantial improvements to energy efficiency, correct?

Ryan: Perhaps the biggest impact was installing a geothermal well system. We drilled about 18 wells and anticipate a 10- to 12-year payback period, which has the potential to provide some real value to the client. And actually, because of the successes that they have had with the heating and cooling with the geothermal wells, they decided to go geothermal for all of the buildings.

Patrick: When you see old buildings like this with brick exterior and a clay tile interior, there is always the option to leave the interior walls exposed—you have the ‘cool factor’ of looking at the old materials. We resisted that style, however, and instead insulated the walls, the ceiling and roof so we have a very tight, energy efficient building.

Ryan: Yes, and you get the coolness from other aspects, like the floor and the trusses.

Patrick: And a building that does not cost nearly as much to heat and cool.

How did you reconnect this building with the daily life of the campus?

Ryan: One of the ways in which we reconnected was by creating an entry plaza. This used to just be a standalone building with a small rickety sidewalk that connected it to the quad. We brought the quad to the building via the plaza, and now we have provided a place for people to hang out, study or just enjoy the outdoors.

Patrick: There were two existing magnolia trees that we maintained in front of the building. We put a low wall around these magnolia trees to allow us to excavate for the plaza. We made the wall exactly the height of a seat—18 inches high—so people have the opportunity to sit here and talk to each other. And it works.

And the lobby, with its reinvented gymnasium floor, represents both.

Patrick: If you are an alumni of Martin Methodist College, you come in the front door and you see the gymnasium flooring that you remember. You look up and you see the roof trusses that were a part of the gymnasium's interior architecture. You see the light fixtures that illuminated the gymnasium. The intention is to make you smile as soon as you come in the door and feel like, "This is the Martin Methodist College I remember, but oh my gosh! Look how much better it is!”

Because this is a totally different use of the building, we kept the visual cues of some of the original aspects of the building and created a sense of arrival. When you approach any building and go in the door you need to have a space to make a decision, “is this someplace I want to come into?” We really wanted to create a strong sense of arrival. I think that is what we were able to accomplish with the tall lobby design and views into the art gallery.

Ryan: And it is not only a strong place of arrival, but with the light-filled rooms and the funky wood floor it is a strong place of arrival for a fine arts building.

Patrick: You are walking into a piece of art. A three-dimensional piece of art.

So what was the client’s reaction to it?

Patrick: Great reaction. They had a grand opening for the facility that was well attended. We were there and it was great seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces. That is what told me that we had a successful project. Occasionally things just fall together correctly. This is one of those projects where everything just worked great. The pieces came together, and when people walked through the door for the first time and their faces lit up, I felt like we nailed it.

What are you the most proud of regarding this project?

Ryan: It was a pretty incredible adaptive reuse and renovation. We were able to reinvigorate this historical piece of Martin’s campus and find a new use for the building.

Patrick: There is the opportunity for alumni to remember the college that they attended, and it is also the most forward-thinking building on campus. This is a project that connects the history of Martin Methodist College to the future of Martin Methodist College. We have connected the past and the future in one building.

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Project Info

  • Client: Martin Methodist College
  • Location: Pulaski, TN, USA
  • Market: Corporate + Urban Design
  • Services: Architecture, Engineering, Interior Design, Building Information Modeling (BIM), Civil Engineering, Landscape Architecture
  • Team:
    • Steven P. Johnson, AIA Principal-in-Charge
    • Patrick Gilbert, AIA, LEED AP Project Manager
    • Jeffrey R. Steele, AIA, LEED AP Project Professional and Project Designer
    • Chris Schottland Project Coordinator
    • Ryan R. Rohe, LEED AP BD+C Project Coordinator
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