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Culture & History

Missouri S&T Will Demolish Mines Bureau Buildings

Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
The Bureau of Mines building on Bishop Avenue in Rolla. The building will be demolished as part of a new entrance to Missouri S&T's campus.

Updated March 22 with demolition announcement

ROLLA — Missouri University of Science and Technology is moving forward with demolishing the Bureau of Mines buildings, including a 75-year-old building on campus that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Bureau of Mines building held offices and lab space from when it opened in 1946 until the federal agency was dissolved in 1996. Since then it has been used for a variety of purposes until becoming vacant in recent years.

“After considering feedback from community members and historical organizations, university leaders say they decided to move forward with plans to reshape the western portion of campus,” according to a statement from S&T.

That master plan includes a new entrance to campus from Interstate 44 that will lead to within a block of the Bureau of Mines Building.

Only one person, an opponent, attended a virtual public comment session last month on the possible demolition. About 100 written comments opposing the demolition were filed with the university.

S&T officials have said the building is not up to current standards, limiting its use, and would be too costly to refurbish.

The demolition is expected to take place in June.

Original story from Feb. 17:

The Bureau of Mines building on the campus of Missouri University of Science and Technology is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation might not be enough to spare it from the wrecking ball.

The 75-year-old, red brick Georgian Revival building could be demolished as the university looks to make room for a new entrance to campus.

“I would say that it has seen its day and it’s not really adequate for the university to use for the purposes we need,” said Pat Litty, an architect and project manager at Missouri S&T.

The building's four floors are nearly identical. There is a single corridor that runs down the center of each floor lengthwise, with abandoned offices and small, cramped labs on either side.

This building was occupied by employees of the Federal Bureau of Mines from 1946 to 1996, when the agency was abolished. The bureau has had a presence on campus predating the building, back to the 1920s.

The fire sprinkler system does not cover many places and is not adequate where it is, Litty said during a tour of the building. Also, the elevator is old and doesn’t meet safety requirements.

“So those are two huge reasons why using this building would be difficult,” Litty said.

Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
A cramped, abandoned lab in the Bureau of Mines building. Column supports prevent rooms from being bigger, and the ceiling height does not accommodate modern venting and safety equipment.

Litty said additional problems include doors and staircases that are not disability compliant, and ceilings too low to support the ventilation needs of modern labs.

The column support structure also limits the size of rooms and would make reuse limiting.

An outside assessment

Missouri S&T brought in a team of outside architects in 2010 to go through each building on campus as part of a space needs assessment. They weren’t impressed by the Bureau of Mines building.

“Architects are known for just loving great architecture, right? That’s what they’ve been taught. And this specific building, when we took them to this building, the team, they said, ‘We don’t see anything here that we just fall in love with,’” said Fred Stone, S&T’s director of design, construction and space management.

The architects did encourage the university to continue to invest in older buildings on campus, including the Rolla Building (1871), Norwood Hall (1903) and Parker Hall (1912).

Stone said it would cost the university 25% less to take down the Bureau of Mines building and add the same amount of square footage as new construction. And the new space would have more flexibility and options because it wouldn’t be limited to a certain floor plan.

More important, possibly, is that the Bureau of Mines building and two smaller storage buildings behind it are in the way of a new entrance to campus from Interstate 44. The City of Rolla has acquired property and is in partnership with the university to reroute University Drive from the interstate to Bishop Avenue to make a new front door for the campus.

Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
A current look at one of the hallways in the Bureau of Mines building.

“They could incorporate that building into that plan and make it a centerpiece,” said Ryan Reed, a Rolla native and member of Missouri Preservation, a historic structure advocacy group. “It just takes some imagination, and there are plenty of people on that campus with the skills and vision to make that work.”

Sustainability issues

Reed called the university’s plans “short-sighted” and said all buildings are more than bricks, steel, concrete and glass.

“It’s the memories we have attached to them, it’s their importance in history, and it’s also their importance to sustainability,” Reed said.

The sustainability issue is the one that Reed thinks ought to be the most compelling argument to keep and reuse the Bureau of Mines building. Reed said as the country and the school look more toward the realities of climate change, projects like this need to take into account environmental impact.

“I think reusing the Bureau of Mines is the ultimate recycling. Because you have this building that exists that is made out of brick and steel and concrete, and these are materials that had to be extracted from the earth and manufactured, and that took a lot of energy,” Reed said.

Missouri S&T has an extensive sustainability policy and even offers a minor in sustainability.

“I think there are endless possibilities for Missouri S&T for reusing this building and building programs and curriculum around the adaptive reuse of historic structures,” Reed said.

Reed also discounted the claims that rehabbing the structure would be cost prohibitive. He said the Register of Historic Places designation could entitle a for-profit arm of the university to take advantage of tax credits. He also said the school could seek variances to some building codes to reduce costs.

Reed said sometimes a slightly higher cost is worth it to save a historic building.

But that may be a tough case to make for the Bureau of Mines building, said Larry Gragg, an emeritus history professor at S&T and author of “Forged in Gold,” the 150-year history of the school.

“It was really considered an ancillary structure to the campus life,” Gragg said. “It was very important to the faculty who did research there and the graduate students that did research there. But it was not fundamental to the life of the campus.”

Gragg said while the building wasn’t important, the work that went on inside it was, and that’s what led to the structure being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The relationship between the Bureau of Mines and the campus was a very positive one. It was an opportunity for researchers on the campus to work with federal employees, chemists and metallurgists,” Gragg said.

But that relationship, which ended 25 years ago, may not be enough to save the building.

Missouri S&T is holding a virtual public hearing on the Bureau of Mines on Thursday afternoon to take public comment.

The inclusion of the building on the National Register of Historic places does not afford it any protection from demolition.

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