A 121-year-old Quad-City architectural icon is undergoing a major renovation.
Old Main, the stately, yellow stone building with the bluish dome on top at Augustana College in Rock Island, has been encased in scaffolding since the beginning of July. Workers are rehabbing the building from the seven-story tall cupola down to the ground.
The stone is being scrubbed and tuck- pointed, the windows are being replaced and the trim painted. Soon, Old Main will be topped with a copper roof and dome. Currently, the dome is painted metal. The copper dome will come pre-treated with patina to give it a bluish-green, weathered look.
“We’re going to do what the founders had in mind,” said Paul Pearson, vice president of business and finance for the college.
The first phase of the Old Main renovation includes the exterior work, which college officials hope will be completed by the end of this year or early next year. The second phase, which is contingent on a successful fundraising campaign, likely would begin next summer, Pearson said.
The cost for both phases will total $13 million. So far, $8.5 million has been raised.
“We are very appreciative and humbled by the financial response from parents, alumni, friends and members of the Quad-City community to the ongoing Old Main project,” said Lynn Jackson, vice president of advancement for the college. “I am confident this iconic symbol will continue to be an important part of Augustana’s history for the next 150 years.”
Plans for the interior renovation of Old Main include computer kiosks throughout the building, modernized classrooms, suite-style offices and reclamation of space once used as the college’s chapel to create an open, two-floor forum space for lectures and presentations.
For Augustana alumni, Old Main is near and dear to their hearts. On a website where students can share memories, one alumnus pleads with college officials not to replace the worn, marble stairs in the building. Pearson said anything that is a safety hazard will be replaced.
Another alumnus suggested the college light the new dome. That’s something college officials are looking into, Pearson said.
“We hope to light the dome if we can do it in a sustainable manner,” he said. “We don’t want to send up a lot of light pollution, but we do want to show off our symbol.”
Steve Daxon, vice president for Estes Construction, Davenport, said the company is working with a historical restoration consultant as it spruces up the building.
“It’s quite a challenge,” he said of the work. “The tedious renovations have just begun, but the guys have done a great job. It’s a real challenge way up there on the scaffolding.”
Augustana alumni have many memories to share about Old Main, which is home to subjects rooted in the liberal arts tradition such as English, history, philosophy, political science, religion, sociology, anthropology and communications.
Kai Swanson, executive assistant to the president of the college and a 1986 graduate, recalls being in a German class in the basement of Old Main five weeks into his freshman year.
“In storms the legendary professor of German, Erwin Weber, with a stack of examination books under his arm,” Swanson said. “In his inimitable accent, he nearly shouts, ‘Today we have a surprise mid-term. You have one hour to write down everything we’ve talked about so far in class. You will be graded first on content, second on grammar, third on vocabulary. Begin!’ And he left.”
A few years after Swanson graduated, he had the opportunity to go through Old Main’s dome to the cupola. He said there’s no better view of the Quad-Cities.
“More fun, though, was finding initials of students carved into the wood with dates ranging back to 1895,” he said. “It’s humbling to think of how many generations of young people have had their eyes opened to new thoughts and perspectives — from Homer to C.S. Lewis to Maya Angelou — and been irrevocably changed by their time in that building.”