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Planned Home for SOC Preserves History and Promotes Sustainability

It’s no secret that American University has been going green. The effects of the sustainability campaign can be felt and seen throughout the school, and the same environmentally conscious perspective is being applied to the new buildings on campus. Following in the steps of the new SIS building, the restoration and renovation of McKinley Hall is adhering to high standards of sustainability.

Pursuing LEED certification means that the School of Communication’s new home in McKinley will be as environmentally responsible as possible. The certification requires making light fixtures and plumbing efficient and using low-emitting materials throughout the building process, such as wood, paint, and carpet. LEED certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Certification Institute, and American University has already received one for the new SIS building.

“We are shooting for the gold level of certification,” says McKinley project manager, Tom Argasinski. “This is fairly difficult because of the money that needs to be put into the project to make it meet LEED’s standards, but the cost now will benefit the school later on as the efficiency of the building pays off.”

In addition to taking sustainability very seriously, the renovation project is also working hard to preserve many aspects of McKinley that have made it such an icon on campus since 1902 when Theodore Roosevelt laid the building’s cornerstone.

“We are keeping the interior brick walls, the slate roof, reproducing the historical windows, and keeping the marble,” explains Argasinski. “The marble is beautiful and it’s really hard to find such big pieces nowadays. We are looking to potentially use the marble we will have left over in our landscape design.”

The building has gone through cycles of use, from being a chemical weapons lab during World War One to being used to study nitrogen in the atmosphere until 1941, and then its brief period of time hosting the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company. In 1955 it began being used for academic purposes, and now it is finally being transformed into SOC’s home. The current renovation aims to keep the iconic dome of the old building and attach a more modern section that will house six digital media labs, a media innovation lab and newsroom, a bigger theater, and more room for offices and classrooms.

However, as with any building project, there are challenges.

“Since we were dealing with an existing building we had to work hard to get a lot of information about it before we started work. We searched for drawings but could not find any, so we had to fill in a lot of the gaps ourselves,” says Argasinski.

Another puzzle was how to fit the whole SOC community, including its prestigious academic centers, into a predetermined space. Despite the building's planned four stories, including the terrace level, it took some effort to fit all the classrooms, offices and facilities that the school needed into the space constraints.

“We went through a lot of variations of the plan until we got it right,” Argasinski recalls.

Now with the project in motion and set to be finished in 2014, those in charge of the project are eager to see their hard work come to fruition. Rosemary Jalo, a project coordinator and intern architect, has been with the project from the start.

“I sat in on meetings with the staff where they talked about what they wanted in a new building, supported the project as it went through fundraising, and now I’m assisting Tom. I really can’t wait to see it finally built and brought to standard. It has so much potential,” says Jalo.

It is also extremely important to SOC to establish a physical presence on the quad.

“This is a great leap forward for this world-class school of communication,” says Ed Beimfohr, SOC’s Associate Dean of Administrating and Planning. “We will have the ability to leverage further momentum and prestige both on and off campus.”