Restored and Rehabilitated

Back in the early 1950s, when Atlanta architect Richard L. Aeck stood with his four-year-old son Tony on a reviewing stand overlooking North Georgia College’s revered drill field at the center of campus in Dahlonega, GA, he could not have known that the military barracks he was designing for a site opposite the stand would some 60 years later be restored and rehabilitated by the descendant architecture firm to his own Aeck Associates.

Now an architect himself and chairman of Lord, Aeck & Sargent (LAS), Tony Aeck has seen the firm transform and prepare the international style military dormitory his father designed — Gaillard Hall — for another half-century of life.

The $5.6M Gaillard Hall restoration/rehabilitation marks the final project in a $69.85M, two-phase public/private venture that included six additional new structures and a cadet formation plaza, all designed by LAS. Gaillard Hall and two of the new residential buildings — Patriot Hall and Liberty Hall — are organized around the formation plaza to create a military education precinct in the heart of the campus of what is now the University of North Georgia. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the University is one of only six senior military colleges in the U.S.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) was formed through the consolidation of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, two of the top-performing schools in the University System of Georgia, in January of this year. Positioned in the fastest-growing region of the state, UNG comprises four campuses united by a single mission, focused on academic excellence and academic and co-curricular programs that develop students into leaders for a diverse and global society. The University of North Georgia is a University System of Georgia leadership institution and is The Military College of Georgia. With about 16,000 students, UNG is the state’s seventh-largest public university. The University offers more than 100 programs of study ranging from certificate and associate’s degrees to professional doctoral programs.

At one point during the planning of the University’s military precinct, Gaillard Hall was slated for demolition. However, LAS, which led the historic preservation component of UNG’s campus master plan, recommended that it be saved due to its historic significance as the campus’ best example of mid-20th-century architecture and its unique proximity and relationship to the historic drill field. Ultimately, campus officials, along with the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and the Georgia Historic Preservation Division, agreed that Gaillard was both “a good example of international style architecture and a historically significant building,” says Mac McConnell, UNG’s vice president for business and finance.

Historic for the 21st Century

Despite its historic importance, Gaillard’s interior had to undergo extensive changes in order to be viable for current uses and to be competitive with new housing stock offered on campus.

“The challenge … was to take a 1950s-era dormitory and retrofit it into a modern living environment with all of the amenities of a 21st-century residence hall,” McConnell says. “The floor-to-ceiling height was extremely limited, so the building didn’t easily lend itself to transformation. LAS had to find creative ways to fit modern building systems (air conditioning, life safety, electrical, plumbing, and data) into a structure that really wasn’t designed for that and, more importantly, to make it an elegant solution.”

“Our goal was to sensitively retrofit Gaillard to be consistent with the newly constructed military housing on campus while maintaining as much of the interior and exterior historic fabric as possible,” says Ross Davis, who served as LAS’ Gaillard project architect.

To that end, the design team devised a strategy to leave intact the signature ceramic glazed terracotta corridor walls and existing door locations by converting every other room into a shared adjoining bathroom — but otherwise retaining the basic building organization.

The final plan essentially took three existing double-occupancy units and turned the center one into a shared bathroom and separate mechanical room that served the suite. Each semi-suite has an entry door for each of the bedrooms and a middle door that provides corridor access to the mechanical room, enabling the semi-suites to be serviced without disturbing the residents.

At the end of each corridor in the three-story building with staggered wings, this space — no longer needed for a common bathroom — was combined with the adjacent room and converted into open dayrooms that serve as amenity study and leisure spaces for the cadets. They are designed flexibly to also serve as assembly locations for cadet meetings and training.

The most significant and historically intact space in the building is the dramatic split-level lobby that helps to mediate the significant topography on the campus. Two elevators also were also installed to make the three-story Gaillard Hall ADA-compliant.

The building exterior, largely in good structural shape, still needed repair. The restoration work included:

  • Selective repointing and cleaning thered brick
  • Refurbishment of the signature historic steel windows of the lobby that included replacement of the single-pane glass with energy-efficient insulated glass
  • Replacement of the windows in each of the semi-suites. These windows were not original to the structure and were replaced with units that were more historically appropriate and that provided improved energy performance.
  • Addition of a new water-source heat pump system to provide heating and air conditioning to the building
  • Installation of a new roof

“You’d never know from the outside that the building was restored. It almost looks brand new,” Davis says.

Proven Value

While Gaillard now has 166 beds compared to the original count of 280 beds, the military village’s three residence halls now house a total of 782 beds.

“While we sacrificed bed count, we added suite-style bathrooms, new common areas, and community amenities to make Gaillard equivalent to UNG’s other military housing,” Davis notes.

Tony Aeck, who still has his father’s handwritten notebooks pertaining to the building’s design and construction, notes that Gaillard was built in two phases completed in 1954 and 1961, respectively, for a total construction cost of exactly $580,148.22.

“So for a total investment of less than $6.2M, UNG has a building that willlast at least 100 years from the timeit was originally constructed,” Aecksays.

The value is only part of the story. Says UNG’s McConnell, “Gaillard has a strong presence and holds a prominent hilltop location overlooking the drill field. It’s a good part of the fabric of our campus, and we couldn’t be happier with the result. And, it’s not often that you get intergenerational architectural work
done on a building!”

Gaillard Hall and the cadet formation plaza are part of a public/private venture financed through the sale of municipal bonds by the North Georgia College & University Real Estate Foundation. Debt service repayment is coming from fees paid for by the use of the buildings. Ambling University Development Groupwas the developer for the project.