Gib­bons Hall’s 143 years of his­tory get up­graded

Ren­o­va­tions at Notre Dame pre­serve build­ing’s in­tegrity

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Jac­ques Kelly jac­ques.kelly@balt­sun.com

Scaf­fold­ing cov­ers much of Notre Dame of Mary­land Univer­sity’s his­toric Gib­bons Hall, the school’s sig­na­ture 1873 aca­demic build­ing.

Over the sum­mer, a $6.5 mil­lion refurbishment be­gan in the struc­ture where stu­dents first found desks and cloak­rooms 143 years ago this month.

“When I come in ev­ery morn­ing, I think of all those phe­nom­e­nal fe­male lead­ers who walked th­ese halls,” said Mary­lou Yam, pres­i­dent of the univer­sity, as she walked through the class­rooms this week — the same ones used in Bal­ti­more’s post-Civil War pe­riod.

Univer­sity of­fi­cials worked with the Mary­land His­tor­i­cal Trust to en­sure that this land­mark build­ing re­mains an ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sure.

The hall is rec­og­nized by its soar­ing lantern-style tower embellished in the Belle Epoque style, ris­ing from a grove of ma­ture trees along North Charles Street.

The univer­sity’s rep­u­ta­tion spans three cen­turies. The School Sis­ters of Notre Dame be­gan ed­u­cat­ing ele­men­tary and high school-age girls on the site in 1873. The or­der es­tab­lished the Col­lege of Notre Dame of Mary­land in 1895 as the first Catholic col­lege for women in the United States to award a four-year bac­calau­re­ate de­gree.

To­day, the school does not treat its beloved Gib­bons Hall as a hands-off mu­seum. It’s used hard, ev­ery day. It houses 23 class­rooms, eight aca­demic de­part­ments and the univer­sity’s school of ed­u­ca­tion.

“The ques­tion is: How do you make a beau­ti­ful old build­ing mod­ern?” said Martin Ka­jic, Notre Dame’s fa­cil­i­ties di­rec­tor.

The an­swer is ex­per­tise. For in­stance, Ka­jic said that the univer­sity hired Whit­ing-Turner con­trac­tors, who in turn sub­con­tracted spe­cial­ists Worces­ter-Eisen­brandt for the sen­si­tive job of restor­ing the Vic­to­rian win­dows.

What about up­grad­ing Gib­bons’ big mansard-style roof? The orig­i­nal ma­te­rial was called Ver­mont black slate, but over the years it had been com­pro­mised by patch jobs. For the ren­o­va­tion, the slate will come from the orig­i­nal Ver­mont quarry — and slaters will re­store the di­a­mond pat­terns de­creed by the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tects.

The up­per floors of Gib­bons Hall are be­ing re­fur­bished as well — with a nod to mod­i­fi­ca­tions that were made to meet Bal­ti­more fire safety in­spec­tions af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing 1958 fire at Our Lady of the An­gels School in Chicago.

The hall once had a finely crafted stair­case, known to gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents as “the pope’s stairs.” Fire of­fi­cials deemed it un­safe — it was an open stair where a fire could spread — and or­dered its re­moval. What cu­ri­ously sur­vived, and is now Mary­lou Yam, the 14th pres­i­dent of Notre Dame of Mary­land Univer­sity, stands out­side Gib­bons Hall, which is be­ing re­fur­bished. pro­tected by the His­tor­i­cal Trust, are the hall’s or­nate cast-iron ra­di­a­tor cov­ers and their mar­ble tops.

Tech­nol­ogy of the 21st cen­tury is be­ing wel­comed in this 19th-cen­tury struc­ture. Whit­ing-Turner work­ers spent the sum­mer retrofitting class­rooms with in­ter­ac­tive white­boards to re­place the old black­boards, and also up­graded Wi-Fi ser­vice through­out the build­ing.

There’s also a new el­e­va­tor, and the hall will get an ac­ces­si­ble ground-level en­trance. The ren­o­va­tions are ex­pected to be com­pleted early next year.

Gib­bons Hall opened Septem­ber 1873 as the Notre Dame of Mary­land Col­le­giate In­sti­tute for Young Ladies. An ad in The Sun as­sured that the hall was “thor­oughly ven­ti­lated” by those same win­dows now be­ing re­fur­bished.

The place was “well heated by hot wa­ter [and] lighted by gas,” The Sun wrote. There were also speak­ing tubes, elec­tric bells and clocks.

Just a few years af­ter its open­ing, Pres­i­dent and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant ap­peared at Gib­bons Hall in 1876 to con­vey diplo­mas and awards to stu­dents.

It was not the gas light­ing, elec­tric bells or im­pres­sive ar­chi­tec­ture that brought the com­man­der in chief from Wash­ing­ton to Bal­ti­more, but some­thing a bit more per­sonal.

The pres­i­dent’s niece, Bessie Sharp, was a stu­dent.

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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