By Jessica Callihan and Asha Gupta
In 1802, at the founding of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., all the buildings were either named for their function (The Library, The Academic Building, The Superintendent’s Building) or for their directional location (South Barracks). It is the kind of straightforward naming convention expected from the U.S. Army. Today, most, if not all, buildings in the central area are named after national leaders, decorated generals, and past West Point superintendents—sometimes all three.
In 1887, the first iteration of Grant Hall was named after the late Ulysses S. Grant. Originally, the building served as the cadet mess hall, providing meals for up to 300 cadets a day. After World War I, West Point increased enrollment and expanded, leading to a mess hall that was over capacity. Upon completion of a new mess hall, Grant Hall was razed and reborn in 1931 as a visitor’s reception center and a new South Barracks.
In 2018, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kokolakis Contracting, and STV Group set out to renovate and modernize the second Grant Barracks, the restoration and preservation of this historic jewel was both challenging and inspirational. The $63 million project tackled a full interior renovation: a building air barrier system that included upgraded waterproofing, insulation, and new blast-resistant windows; new roofing; and fully modernized mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.
OLD MEETS NEW
The historic preservation of Grant Barracks represented the challenge of installing modern age comforts while maintaining the building’s historic status. In addition to the restorative work and mechanical upgrades, the contract called for a $3.2 million cafeteria kitchen upgrade, built within the historic footprint.
The renovation involved complex upgrades to meet current codes, which was achieved through modern construction techniques and the replacement of outdated building systems. Energy-efficient features include exterior wall spray foam insulation, insulated windows, LED lighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and electronic controls for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. The facility was designed to achieve LEED Silver certification.
Restoration work was unusually complex due to the demolition and renovation needed on the upper floors. Great care was taken during demolition with the vibrating machinery that had to be brought in and water was used judiciously to keep the dust down. This wing was treated with similar care during construction, so the ceiling was minimally impacted.
Another challenge awaited in the rebuild of the bathrooms above Grant Hall. In any other location, the piping for a bathroom would be installed beneath that floor; however, the historic concrete ceiling on the first floor does not provide that option. Previous designers had resolved this problem by installing a false 4-in deck into which the bathroom piping had been installed. This made it nearly impossible to detect or repair leaks.
Building information modeling was used to design the plumbing systems in 3D and to relocate all the new second floor bathroom piping into the vaulted ceilings that run north to south at the west side of the hall or into a false plaster beam at the east side. This ensures that very little piping runs directly over the historic ceiling and reduces the potential for water damage.
The close collaboration between all project teams was most evident during the preservation of the historic Grant Hall ceiling. Comprised of 11 beams running the full length of the hall from east to west, the ceiling was made by forming concrete using 4-in wide wood planks. This created a wood texture that was then painted faux bois. The formwork, along with decorative painting, can convince the casual passerby that the ceiling is made of wood.
Capturing the Past. The seals of 48 states are painted on the beams, as the ceiling construction pre-dates the induction of Hawaii and Alaska into the United States. Also painted on the beams are decorative patches and emblems of all Army regiments as of 1930. An extended lack of temperature control, general aging, and prolonged leakage from an above bathroom near the center of the ceiling had woefully deteriorated what is considered one of the most important pieces of art on post.
To save these historical elements, each of the seals on the ceiling was traced and photographed to preserve a copy. Original layers of paint were conserved and stabilized where possible. Years of dirt, debris, flaked paint, and sealer were scraped off until a sound substrate was reached. In areas of high efflorescence, desalinization techniques also were utilized. The ceiling was both dry and wet cleaned as appropriate to the damage in each location. Spalls and old penetrations in the concrete ceiling were repaired, and plaster repairs were made.
Once the surface was prepared, paint restoration could begin. The paint reintegration phase was carried out by a small team with EverGreen Architectural Art, which also did all the cleaning and preservation to include quality control and consistency of application. Varnish then was applied to preserve the work.
Woodwork Restoration. Similar measures were taken to preserve and restore the interior woodwork. Grant Hall features dark-stained oak woodwork encompassing the entire north wall, north ceiling bay, and an oversized divider feature at the south end of the room. Additionally, three historic white oak doors with ornamental hardware lead the public into the space. The surfaces were wet and dry cleaned, holes were patched, and missing trim was replaced. Gel stain and acrylic paints mimic the original grain, making dutchmen completely invisible to the untrained eye. Finally, zinc-camed windows wrap the facade, which were protected and preserved throughout. The central location of Grant Hall makes the exterior an important part of the progression of granite facades in that area. In addition, the courtyard formed by the wings of the barracks creates a strong visual image for the cadets.
Painted beams and stone trimmings are other significant architectural elements that contribute to the character of the building. Selected light fixtures and furnishings further ensure proper preservation and visual aesthetics.
In the kitchen, efforts were made to keep the historic elements on display. HVAC and electrical items were installed tight to the deck so the finished ceiling would not interfere with newly restored limestone window arches. The bulk of kitchen equipment was installed in areas to the far east and west of the room, or in the basement, leaving the main area open and visible.
Blast-resistant windows were installed at the interior openings in the kitchen and dining spaces to offer greater physical and heat loss protection. Additional measures include programmable environmental controls, insulated windows, doors equipped with weather-stripping and gaskets, and routing piping away from historic structures to preserve these elements for years to come. Grant Barracks was completed in August 2020 and can quarter 274 cadets. With the project finished, the hall is now prepared to support its modern mission while preserving its significance and stature on America’s most storied campus.
Jessica Callihan is Assistant Project Manager and Asha Gupta is Marketing Coordinator, Kokolakis Contracting. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; and agupta@ jkokolakis.com.
[This article first published in the November-December 2021 issue of The Military Engineer.]