The University of Arizona

Bear Down Gym to be New, Temporary Home for Old Main Offices

By Shelley Shelton, University Communications | June 13, 2012

About 100 employees will move into Bear Down by August. Old Main renovations are scheduled to start in October.

Old Main, pictured here around 1902, is the UA's oldest building. It will be restored as closely as possible to its original form and appearance while meeting the requirements of current building and fire safety codes.
Old Main, pictured here around 1902, is the UA's oldest building. It will be restored as closely as possible to its original form and appearance while meeting the requirements of current building and fire safety codes.
Bear Down Gymnasium will be the temporary home to the Office of Admissions, the Think Tank and the Center for Exploratory Students while Old Main undergoes renovations.
Bear Down Gymnasium will be the temporary home to the Office of Admissions, the Think Tank and the Center for Exploratory Students while Old Main undergoes renovations.
Old Main currently houses the Dean of Students office as well as the Office of Admissions and the Center for Exploratory Students. That will change after the renovations.
Old Main currently houses the Dean of Students office as well as the Office of Admissions and the Center for Exploratory Students. That will change after the renovations.

With restoration work beginning soon on the University of Arizona's beloved Old Main, about 100 full-time employees will be relocated to Bear Down Gymnasium by summer's end.

The Old Main construction is scheduled to begin roughly in October and continue through June 2014, so the University has already begun converting Bear Down to take in the Center for Exploratory Students and the Office of Admissions.

Also moving into the gym will be the Think Tank, which is currently housed in the Robert L. Nugent Building. That's because the Office of the Dean of Students, currently in Old Main, has privacy issues to manage that prevent it from being able to move into Bear Down with the rest of its Old Main neighbors. So the Dean of Students office will be in Nugent, and the Think Tank will move to Bear Down.

"Visualize your old high school gym suddenly becoming a tutoring center, academic support area and advising office – I think it's really interesting," said Melissa Vito, vice president for student affairs.

The University is trying to create as much private space as possible within the giant gym, she said. That means bringing in cubicles to enclose personal workspaces. The cubicles, along with carpet that will be laid, also will help reduce noise.

The gym currently doesn't have air conditioning, so that is being addressed as well, she said, and everything needs to be ready to go by August so the displaced offices aren't in disarray when classes resume.

"When freshmen come to campus, they won't even know things were elsewhere," Vito said.

Meanwhile, the second floor of Old Main will be getting its first major renovation in "quite some time," along with parts of the ground floor, said Bob Smith, senior associate vice president for business affairs.

The first floor underwent a renovation from 2006 to 2008, enabling the offices of admissions and orientation services to move in there. That was the first work on the building since the 1980s.

Old Main was built in 1891 with what were considered the "greenest" features of the era: thick brick walls for insulation; wide, wraparound verandas for cooling shade; and the entire building was sunk 6 feet below ground to help minimize the effects of the warm Tucson summers.

Now, the University is reinforcing the 120-year-old building's structural systems – reconstructing building footings to properly support the whole building and prevent storm water penetration, and rebuilding the columns supporting the porches around Old Main as well as the porch walking decks and the roof above, Smith said.

The work is estimated to cost around $13 million, which the University plans to cover with donated money. Turner Structural Engineering Co. will do the work.

"Old Main is one of the University's most treasured buildings, and we want to be sure to take good care of it," he said.

Following a Tucson trend that is making the old "new" again – such as the downtown Façade Improvement Program and the construction of a "modern" streetcar – Smith said the idea is to restore Old Main as close as possible to its original form and appearance while meeting the requirements of current building and fire safety codes.

"We are hopeful that we will be able to capture the essence of the original design and construction of this iconic symbol of our University," he said.

Future plans for Bear Down remain up in the air, he added.

When the temporary administrative offices are no longer needed there, he said, "we will consider utilizing the space for new, greatly needed, high-tech, large classrooms."

Vito said the Dean of Students office will remain in Nugent, leaving open the chance that the Think Tank would move into Old Main when construction is finished.

"Anything is possible," she said. But the sentimental value of the University's oldest buildings won't be lost while making those decisions.

"Our iconic buildings on campus, like Old Main or Bear Down, mean a lot to students, faculty, alumni and our external community."