Preserving Integrity at OSU

I look at historic buildings as really big antiques. Restoring them comes with myriad challenges and opportunities. 

CMSWillowbrook has completed many historical restoration projects, but my favorites are the ones we did for my alma mater, Oklahoma State University (OSU).

We have been hired repeatedly to restore beautiful buildings on the Stillwater campus because we are craftsmen, not just builders. We have the knowledge, skill and passion it takes to do the job right. That’s why OSU leaders have trusted us with some of the school’s most iconic structures, including Old Central, Murray Hall, the Edmon Low Library cupola tower and, most recently, the Student Union’s cupola tower.

 
 

Restoring the famous copper steeple atop the Student Union posed one of the greatest challenges of my career. Built in 1951, the structure had weathered Oklahoma elements for more than 65 years and, even though the original copper work was done extremely well, some elements of the copper were literally falling apart.

The project required a tremendous amount of scaffolding just to get started. The steepness of the tower and lack of interior access made it impossible to thoroughly inspect without the scaffolds. A drone was initially used to get visuals, but sometimes even the latest technology isn’t as good as human hands and eyes. The job was complicated and safety was of the highest concern; most construction companies wouldn’t even attempt it.

Our next big challenge came when it was time to repair the spun copper balustrade, the distinctive ornamental railing located inside the cupola.

The original copper was not reusable and had to be replicated using new materials, a job easier said than done. First, we reverse engineered the top and bottom rail to assess how it was crafted. We were able to reconstruct the rails, but we discovered each of the 38 ornamental balustrades actually comprised 18 separate pieces of spun copper soldered together.

After months of research, we found a craftsman in Missouri skilled in the dying art of spun copper. We collaborated with him to make the balustrade even better than before. Although it looks the same on the outside, we engineered a longer-lasting, more weather-resistant structure using fiberglass rods inside the balustrades and African teak inside the top and bottom rails.

This project was a labor of love. Everyone on the team was instrumental in the successful outcome. We even worked long days and through the weekends to finish before Homecoming 2018 – about three months ahead of the initial schedule! And, as with most CMSWillowbrook projects, we finished under budget, too.

Cary DeHart is CEO of CMSWillowbrook

Larisha Hunter