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With a new academic year about to begin, two fixtures of UM’s campus are getting a facelift.

Construction crews are finishing both a new roof atop Jeannette Rankin Hall and renovations to part of the Liberal Arts Building. Campus architect Jameel Chaudhry predicts students will be quick to appreciate the latter project. “In terms of the well being and mood and attention of the faculty and students, I think this will be a huge improvement,” he told the Missoulian Monday.

The 30-classroom Liberal Arts building was built in the 1950s. UM renamed its south wing Eck Hall in 2017, in recognition of an $8.6 million gift from Dennis and Gretchen Eck. For the past four years, the university has used those funds to bring the building, section by section, into the 21st century. This summer, UM completed Phase 4 of the renovation project.

“It’s taken six classrooms and totally remodeled them,” Chaudhry said. “At the end of this summer we’ll have remodeled fully all of the classrooms that are facing the Oval.

“The big difference,” he said, “is on the windows.” The original facade had long bands of windows, but many of them got covered with plaster for added insulation during the 1970s energy crisis. “It was pretty dull and dingy,” the architect said.

Now, the windows along the Oval have been restored, and the past four summers have brought plenty of other improvements inside: a two-story, glassed-in entryway; a new Advising Center whose glass walls let sunlight reach the interior; student lounge spaces; a whiteboard finish on the walls; even a “skyfold” partition that lets instructors merge two classrooms into one.

“Whichever professor comes in here, if he or she has a different teaching style, they can adapt” the room to their needs,” he said.

The classrooms and offices along the Oval got some of the most extensive upgrades. Chaudhry showed a classroom across the hall that got what he described as a “lighter remodel.” It still has a single 4x4 window, but got new paint and carpeting.

Chaudhry also pointed out several improvements behind the scenes: sprinklers throughout the entire building, a new roof, air conditioning and a removal of the asbestos insulation overhead.

The four phases of renovations he said, have run about $8.6 million, all funded by the Ecks. If there’s money left over once the project is complete, Chaudhry said he would like to install solar panels on the roof.

Eck Hall isn’t the only UM building to get spruced up this summer. Jeannette Rankin Hall, also on the Oval, is getting a new roof. Rankin Hall was one of the five original campus buildings designed in the early 20th century by architect A.J. Gibson.

Staying true to his vision required some careful craftsmanship, Chaudhry explained. The original roof would have been shingled with irregular wooden “shakes.” For the new roof, the university opted for plastic shingles with a wood-grain finish. “It looks more or less like a wood shake,” he said. They came in three different sizes, pieced together to both replicate the original effect and ensure proper drainage.

The work on this project started in mid-May, and Chaudhry expects it to continue into the new semester. The entire project, he said, cost $360,500, paid for by the state. In addition to the new shingles, a tacked-on downspout has been removed, the vermiculite insulation in the attic replaced with fiberglass, and Gibson’s internal gutters, fronted by bright copper “facie,” have also been restored.

In about a year, the copper will be weathered to a dull brown color, but it glinted in the sun Monday afternoon.

One of the newly renovated classrooms on Eck Hall's west end offers a sweeping view of Rankin, Main Hall and Mount Sentinel beyond. “This is a fabulous classroom,” Chaudhry said. “I think it’s going to be awesome."

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