March 12, 2018 at 11:43 am

Century-old Ellis Gets Sustainable, Accessible Make-Over

New entrance to Ellis will open to a central, welcoming lobby. Shows students entering main lobby.

New entrance to Ellis will open to a central, welcoming lobby. Courtesy of
Champlin Architecture.

By Lori Bauer

Architects are turning the inside of Ellis Hall from a maze of offices and classrooms into a welcoming learning space.

Students and visitors entering a newly renovated Ellis Hall in early 2019 will be greeted by a new first-floor lobby that provides a central administrative hub as well as a new student collaborative area.

The three departments housed in Ellis—English, Philosophy, and Classics & World Religions—will share classrooms on the ground and first floors, with faculty and graduate student offices on the second and third floors.

New hallway in Ellis Hall with open archways to student learning space. Rendering shows students walking in hallways

New hallway in Ellis Hall with open archways to student learning space. Courtesy of Champlin Architecture.

From No Insulation to LEED Certification

It’s been 56 years since any major renovations have been made to the 114-year-old red-brick building that is one of the anchor buildings on Ohio University’s historic College Green.

Emergency repairs to the air conditioning and heating systems were needed in the last two years, and faculty in Ellis have always reported office temperatures feeling more au natural than they should. But contractors were surprised to find that the north and south ends of the building, added in 1906 and 1908, were built with no insulation—just open space to the roof above the third-floor classrooms and offices.

The renovated Ellis, by contrast, includes a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. Spring break found Ellis looking a bit skeleton-like, with all the drafty windows and many inside walls removed as the building awaited the makeover phase of construction. New sustainable technology in Ellis will include LED lighting, low-flow toilets and sinks, and drought-tolerant trees and shrubs.

The $13 million redo is projected to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification in keeping with President M. Duane Nellis’ goal of enhancing the university’s national position as a leading edge laboratory for sustainability.

“The transformation of iconic Ellis Hall on the College Green bears testament to how we can maintain the natural beauty of our campus while being much better stewards of energy resources and much more welcoming and accessible to all of our students,” said President Nellis. (See President Nellis’ Strategic Pathways for OHIO.)

New student learning space in Ellis Hall. Rendering showing students seated and walking.

New student learning space in Ellis Hall. Courtesy of Champlin Architecture.

Accessibility: Old Building Gets a Lift

For a university committed to becoming a national leader in diversity and inclusion, making a building designed at the turn of the 20th century accessible for today’s students is a key component of the project.

When Ellis was last renovated, in 1962, a small elevator was added, but the entrances on the west side of the building still required half-flights of stairs to reach the ground or first floors. In addition to a new elevator, the architects are increasing wheelchair accessibility from the west by adding a lift that would provide a path from a partially raised entrance down to a floor that has elevator access. This solution was designed by Champlin Architecture so that it could be employed at the second entrance on the west in the future, should funding be identified.

Ellis Hall, shown from east with front portico and white columns.

Ellis Hall

Tearing Down the Walls, Building Community

The three departments that call Ellis home worked together with the architects and the College of Arts & Sciences administration to create a new functional model for the building.

The first efficiency involved rethinking both territory and budget. A central administrative hub easily accessible to students, faculty and visitors alike will replace department offices formerly located on different floors. The merged staff, in addition to saving costs, provides career advancement opportunities with a building administrator now managing the merged staff.

The form follows the function of the new centralized space for administrative personnel and functions such as mail, conference rooms, and copiers.

For a century, students and visitors entering the front of the building from the east would either use the ground-floor entrance or climb the stairs that wound around to an elevated portico providing first-floor access. Either way, they found themselves in the middle of a hallway, with no welcoming office in sight.

To create a central lobby, the architects eliminated the structural floor slab that divided the ground and first floors and created a lighter, more transparent stepped bridge across the first floor that would allow light to penetrate to the ground floor. Interior design elements were employed to visually connect the two floors, effectively creating a double height entrance lobby for the building.

Classroom and student oriented spaces were then concentrated on the lower two floors, and offices were located on the upper two floors. Several creative solutions were employed to break through bearing walls to counteract the tunnel like corridors:

  • A large arched opening was created on the first floor between the corridor and a new student collaborative area on the west side of the building. This cross axis was reinforced using a wood ceiling element that connects the entry lobby to the student collaboration area across the corridor.
  • The longer sections of corridor were modulated with lowered ceiling barrel vaults that referenced the historic construction techniques using more modern materials.
  • Circulation space was captured for use as conference space and multi-occupant offices on an upper floor where the wide circulation zone wasn’t needed to support classrooms.



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