The University of Arizona

Pardon Our Dust

By Daniel Stolte, University Communications | August 22, 2012

"Beep-beep-beep." Students and employees returning for the fall semester are being greeted by haul trucks and caterpillars maneuvering back and forth on and around campus.

The Arizona Stadium north end-zone expansion construction site.
The Arizona Stadium north end-zone expansion construction site.
Bryant-Bannister Building, the new home of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.
Bryant-Bannister Building, the new home of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.
The former Four Points Sheraton Hotel is being converted into the Aloft University Tucson hotel.
The former Four Points Sheraton Hotel is being converted into the Aloft University Tucson hotel.
The Tucson Modern Streetcar construction site.
The Tucson Modern Streetcar construction site.

While the Tucson Modern Streetcar may be the most visible – and most disruptive – construction project under way, various other buildings on and around the University of Arizona campus are starting to take shape.

A streetcar named Sun Link

Construction of the Tucson Modern Streetcar line started in April and will continue through next year. To minimize disruptions, tracks are being laid in sections. This way, sections of the route can be reopened to traffic once tracks are in the ground, while work crews install the stops, poles and other infrastructure.
 
Because of the length of the rails, substantial sections of the streets along the tram’s route need to be fenced off during track laying, said Melissa Dryden, a spokeswoman for UA Planning, Design and Construction.
 
“The construction crews have worked hard over the summer to accomplish as much as possible before the beginning of the fall semester,” Dryden said. “The project still has a long way to go, but they’re on schedule.”
 
Dryden explained that because the area around the UA campus is quite old, utility lines had to be relocated, which took a lot of time before rails could be brought in. 
 
Second Street is open between Park and Mountain avenues but will remain closed between Highland Street and Warren Avenue until September, while rails are being finished up along that section. This includes the intersection of Cherry Avenue and Second Street. Later this fall, rails will be put in Park Avenue connecting the tracks along Second Street and University Boulevard.
 
For up-to-date information on the current status of the Sun Link project, visit the its website, which also features a video animation of the entire streetcar route and a downloadable detour map for bicyclists.
 
 
Finally, a home for the Wildcats
 
Arizona Stadium, home to the Wildcats since 1929, has always been open at its north end. Construction is ongoing that will close the circle, providing permanent seating and a facility to house the UA football program and its operations (webcam).
 
UA Athletics Director Greg Byrne said the UA’s football program is one of very few in the country to not have its own facility. Currently housed in McKale Center, all operations of the football program will move over once the new facility is finished a year from now. Financed through donations, the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility will house coaches’ offices, an equipment room, a medial treatment center, team meeting rooms and weight and locker rooms, as well as a new cafeteria that will be open the public.
 
“We are very excited about the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and the impact it will make not only on our football program and our student athletes, but also on our fans, enhancing their experience on game day,” Byrne said. “We will have new seating areas for our fans, new concessions and new amenities including a private club area for donors that helped fund this project.”
 
He added that the new facility will open up much-needed space at McKale Center for future renovations that are needed because of the UA’s aging athletics facilities.
 
Because some access routes to Arizona Stadium will be different during construction, fans are encouraged to arrive to games early and check the Arizona Athletics Game Day Guide for information on parking and stadium access.
 
UA alumni build a ‘tree house’
 
When UA astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglass turned to studying the growth patterns of tree rings in an effort to reconstruct how past climates correlated with sunspot activity in the 1930s, he didn’t know he would become the founder of an entirely new scientific discipline: dendrochronology, the study of tree rings.
 
The University administration assigned Douglass a corner office underneath Arizona Stadium and some space to store his wood samples.
 
“It was meant as a temporary solution to tide him over for a few weeks until more suitable quarters could be found,” said Thomas Swetnam, director of the UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, or LTRR, which was formally established by the Arizona Board of Regents 75 years ago.
 
Since then, the LTRR has grown to a UA department that is home to about 60 people, occupying the stadium’s entire west side.
 
Now, 75 years later, the LTRR is getting ready to move into a veritable “tree house.” Designed by Richärd & Bauer Architecture, a firm owned by two alumni of the UA architecture program, the Bryant Bannister Tree-Ring Building (webcam) is going to house about 22,000 square feet of labs, offices and a portion of the world’s largest collection of ancient timbers.
 
“We have about 3 million specimens in our collection ranging from pencil-sized cores all the way to table-top-sized slabs of wood from sequoias and the like,” Swetnam said, “and about half of them will move over into the new building.” 
 
Under construction since November 2011 and designed as a “tree house,” the new home of the LTRR will offer 28,200 gross square feet and is going up on top of the Mathematics East building. 
 
“They were looking for a location where the LTRR could be more centralized, and this seemed to be a great solution, putting them into the existing building without having to demolish another and still retain the option of expanding in the future,” said Dryden. 
 
Funded by a gift of $9 million from long-time UA benefactor Agnese Haury with an additional $3 million provided by the UA, the building’s two floors are elevated on steel beams, whose branching pattern is reminiscent of trees. A scaffold of connected aluminum tubing will serve as a sunshade and help make the building more energy-efficient.
 
While the upper two floors will house offices and labs, the ground floor will host a circular set of rooms that have glass walls and polycarbonate walls to allow natural light into the building. It will serve as an exhibit space for school kids, students and their families visiting on campus, Swetnam said. Specimens from around the world will be on display, including a 10-foot cross section of a Giant Sequoia tree, wood from 4,000-year old bristlecone pines and timber from ancient Anasazi ruins.
 
“What is most exciting about the building is that it’s a showcase for what we do,” Swetnam said. “It brings out into the open in a central location on campus and allows us to share the interest and excitement of tree-ring discoveries with students and the general public.”
 
Rejuvenating Old Main and Bear Down Gym
 
Old Main, the University’s original building, will see renovations starting in October that are scheduled to last through June 2014. The project will address increasingly serious structural and weather penetration failures while also restoring its historic features and extending the useful and functional life of the building for many years to come. Outdated and worn mechanical, electrical, communications and safety systems will be replaced with modern and energy efficient systems – decreasing utility and maintenance costs while providing much improved service and function.
 
“Located in the heart of campus, it is an icon for the UA and among our most treasured historic resources,” said Peter Dourlein, assistant vice president of UA Planning, Design & Construction. “The renovation and preservation project is an investment in both our tradition and in having useful and needed space for necessary functions.”
 
Work will begin with exploratory evaluations of the structure to confirm exactly what can be salvaged and which components must be replaced, Dourlein said. An occupancy and best-use evaluation will be part of the project effort.
 
Dourlein said although Old Main and some of the open spaces surrounding the building will be fenced off, he anticipates no major obstructions of traffic around the site. 
 
While Old Main is being renovated, the Dean of Students office has relocated to the Nugent Building, and most of the other occupants of Old Main, such as Student Services, have relocated to temporary facilities inside of Bear Down Gym. It is anticipated that a new building will be constructed immediately south of Bear Down, in the old pool location, to house the Student Services personnel temporarily located in Bear Down.
 
Once those employees move into the new building, renovation and preservation of the historic Bear Down Gym building will begin. This will include adding core classroom facilities within the facility. 
 
“It is an important goal of the project to recognize, showcase and celebrate the history of the building and its many uses over the years,” Dourlein said. “Having core classrooms in Bear Down will appropriately help return the building to its early-days status as a facility that nearly all students interfaced with.”
 
He added that all work would conform with State Historic Preservation Office requirements and the Secretary of the Interiors guidelines for historic buildings to ensure the status of Old Main and Bear Down on the National Register of Historic Places. Appropriate opportunities for community sponsorship and donations are being considered to help fund these projects.
 
“Enrollment continues to grow at this University,” Dourlein said. “Restoring and extending the useful life of these two historic campus icons provides much needed space and function on campus while reinforcing the very core foundation of what makes the University of Arizona the premier institution and experience that it is.”
 
Former Sheraton Four Points to become trendy Aloft Hotel
 
Several construction projects are under way in the vicinity of campus. The former Sheraton Four Points Hotel on the southeast corner of Speedway Boulevard and Campbell Avenue is being transformed into the Aloft Tucson University hotel by its owner company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
 
According to plans going back to 2008, the makeover will result in accommodations aimed to attract a younger crowd of 20 to 30-somethings. Amenities will include loft-style rooms with modern furniture and entertainment centers, a fitness center and bars. Off-campus student housing is being built in other areas, for example near Sixth Street and Fourth Avenue and on First Street and Tyndall Avenue.