Remsen Hall Rededicated After $15 Million Overhaul By Emil Venere / Office of News and Information Architects faced with the difficult task of renovating Remsen Hall had a major obstacle to overcome: how were they going to install a modern ventilation system without sacrificing valuable classroom and research space? One idea was to put the ventilation units on the third floor and poke holes in the 70-year-old building so that air ducts could be inserted. But that option was soon abandoned. In addition to consuming much of the third floor, it could have weakened the building's structure. The solution, said chemistry professor Craig Townsend, was brilliant. Build a completely separate structure and stick it in the middle of the U-shaped building, joining the two wings and housing the high-tech ventilation system in this three-story addition, now commonly called "the infill." It was an elegant and functional way out of the problem, providing an efficient and aesthetically pleasing place in which to house the huge ventilation units, while also adding some new space for labs, classrooms and offices. Remsen, the Homewood campus's second oldest building behind Gilman Hall, has been brought up to speed with the university's most modern research facilities, said Townsend, who was chairman of the renovation committee. And all this modernization has not compromised Remsen's classic look and turn-of-the-century feeling--its slate-tiled gable roof, ornate interior cornices, arching windows and expansive lecture theaters. "This is a wonderful room to teach in," said Townsend, standing in 233 Remsen, a lecture room with steeply sloped seating and the original demonstration table. "I love it. You have a close sense of the class." Meanwhile, down in the bowels of the infill, "air handling" units the size of city buses breathe efficiently. They draw air from two large outdoor inlets and pump it into labs, offices and classrooms. All exhaust from the labs is collected and ejected from two chimneys. But a portion of the air for other non-laboratory work spaces is recycled back into the building, saving energy. All this mechanical respiration has breathed new life into Remsen Hall, where the ghost of Ira Remsen still lingers. The ashes of Hopkins' first professor of chemistry and second president are literally housed in the building--behind a brass tablet in the wall of a stairwell on the building's east side. A major consideration during renovation was taking care not to disturb the crypt, Townsend said. Remsen Hall was "rededicated," during ceremonies on May 5-7. And the Chemistry Department is proud of its 98,000-square-foot gem. The original Remsen was 81,000 square feet, and the infill added 16,500 square feet. Old Remsen was in bad shape. Exhaust hoods in laboratories worked poorly, and air for ventilation was drawn in through windows, circulating dirt from outside amid sensitive optical equipment, computers and experiments. In summer, there was not enough power to run the many window-unit air conditioners, causing frequent electrical failures and crashing computers. The ancient plumbing system often failed, producing floods. The new Remsen was completed at the end of 1993, after three years of construction, done in phases. About 45 percent of the $15 million renovation cost went to upgrading the building's mechanical operations--the heating, ventilation and air conditioning. But a lot of attention also was paid to other features, such as safety and aesthetics. "The whole interior was completely gutted; everything was torn out," said David Draper, chairman of the Chemistry Department. The work was a long time coming. A letter was penned by chemistry professors in the late 1930s, urging the university to do something about the building's inadequate utilities and design flaws. Part of the problem stemmed from Remsen's sheer antiquity. When it was built in 1924, there were not many experts in the construction of chemistry buildings. That situation has changed. The architects who designed Remsen's renovation, Ellenzweig Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., have had extensive experience designing and renovating chemistry buildings. "I'm very proud of the work they've done," Townsend said.
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