Work in Progress

J. Edgar Monroe Memorial Science Building
J. Edgar Monroe Memorial Science Building

By Autumn Cafiero Giusti ’00

Heavy construction on Monroe Hall today will lead to a modern marvel tomorrow.

It’s one of the quirkier buildings on campus. Students refer to it as the “boat building” because of its infamous porthole windows. The bathrooms are located in the stairwells—between floors. And the building’s Post-Modern design sticks out among the more traditional, red brick buildings that have come to define Loyola University New Orleans’ architecture.

But with a $93 million renovation under way, the J. Edgar Monroe Memorial Science Building, known to most as Monroe Hall, is about to go from quirky to campus showpiece. The portholes will give way to sleek floor-to-ceiling windows. Red brick will replace the building’s beige, fiberglass façade. And decades-old wiring and dated systems will yield to energy-efficient upgrades upon the building’s completion in 2015.

“Everything we know about Monroe Hall will change. Each floor will be renovated from slab to ceiling,” says Bret Jacobs, vice provost for Information Technology and chief information officer for the university.

There will be room for some new occupants, too. Two departments—theatre arts and visual arts—will move in, while the science departments that already occupy the building will get room to grow. The renovation will add a sixth floor and 114,000 square feet to the five-story building.

“The Monroe Hall renovation will not only provide state-of-the-art facilities for the departments housed in the building, but will foster the development of cross-discipline opportunities for instruction between the sciences and the arts,” Jacobs says.

Technology updates, improved classrooms, and new and upgraded meeting spaces are all part of the package. All of the building’s mechanical systems will be replaced, and the building will incorporate energy-efficient systems wherever possible.

Classrooms will be resized and equipped with modern presentation systems. The building will have wireless network access throughout and new science labs. The general and organic chemistry labs on the first floor will be retained and refreshed.

Holabird & Root of Chicago is the lead architect. The firm formed a joint venture with Holly & Smith, L.L.C., of New Orleans for the project.

A Symbol of the Times

Compared to newer structures on campus, the 43-year-old Monroe Hall is showing its age inside and out. But that wasn’t always the case. When the building debuted on campus in 1969, it was a symbol of progress—a cutting-edge science complex with an avant-garde appearance reflective of scientific advances being made at the time.

Campus legends abound about the original construction of Monroe Hall and its unusual appearance. One legend has it that the building was intentionally designed to look like a boat, with the windows resembling portholes. Coincidentally, the building’s namesake, J. Edgar Monroe, made his fortune in the shipbuilding industry and helped fund the project. Another legend says that the bathrooms were omitted from the original designs, which is why they ended up in the stairwells.

Little information exists to confirm or deny these accounts, but campus archives suggest that the building’s peculiar design was merely a product of that era. The university described plans for the building as “modern but very functional,” according to an October 1966 story in The Maroon.

In the mid-1960s, interest in the sciences was sweeping the country. The Soviet Union had launched the Sputnik satellite, and the Vietnam War had created a demand for scientific innovations that could be used on the battlefield, such as napalm.

At the same time, Loyola was undergoing a building boom. Biever Hall and the Danna Center were completed in 1963, and Buddig Hall came along two years later.

University administrators believed the time had come for Loyola to build its own science complex. The university brought on modernist architect Ismay Mary Mykolyk to design a state-of-the-art science complex.

Bernard Cook, Ph.D., Provost Distinguished Professor of History, recently chronicled Loyola’s history, including the 1960s building boom, in his book, Founded on Faith: A History of Loyola University New Orleans.

“They were trying to be different from the other buildings,” he says. “I think maybe they were trying to make a statement about the changing character of Loyola, shifting from a commuter college to a more comprehensive American university.”

The result was the J. Edgar Monroe Memorial Science Building, built for $6.7 million. At 180,000 square feet, the building was the largest academic structure in Loyola’s history and doubled the university’s classroom space.

Over time, as newer buildings sprung up that blended better with the campus architecture, Monroe’s distinct appearance became more noticeable. The building wore down with age, and its maintenance needs piled up.

Chris Wiseman ’88, Ph.D., associate vice president for development and political science instructor, was a student at Loyola in the 1980s and has watched Monroe Hall evolve over the years.

“It’s been a useful building for so many years, but I think it’s also one of the buildings students like the least,” he says. “It’s so fundamental to Loyola’s work, but people really see the need for change there.”

Arts and Sciences Under One Roof

Chemistry Department Chair Thom Spence, Ph.D., is among those ready for change. He has found himself having to do amateur plumbing on nitrogen and gas lines while doing lab work in Monroe Hall. And it’s not unusual for water to leak from the outside and through walls.

“We’re talking about a renovated building that is so much higher in sophistication than what we have now,” says Spence.

The chemistry faculty has spent a great deal of time in the past two years designing spaces that are forward thinking and flexible, Spence says. Until now, the department has been split among three different floors. After the renovation, the department plans to consolidate onto the first and second floors. The recently renovated Choppin Chemistry Wing and the Keck Collaborative Learning Center will remain in place, but there will be new, centralized facilities for equipment.

While the renovation will create some much-needed breathing room for departments that already occupy the building, it will create new space for theatre arts and visual arts. Many of theatre arts’ current spaces are converted classrooms and too small for the purpose they are intended to serve. The faculty and staff have gotten used to doing the “printer dance” inside the department’s cramped office in room 312 of Marquette Hall, says Georgia Gresham, M.F.A., chair for the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. “It’s so tight to get to the printer that if you don’t counter block, you can’t get through,” she jokes.

Right now, theatre arts is spread out among three different buildings on campus. With the renovation, the department can consolidate its offices, classrooms, and studios to Monroe Hall. The department will continue to use the Lower Depths Theater in the Communications/Music Complex, the scene shop on the Broadway campus, and Marquette Theater in Marquette Hall.

“We will go into spaces that are actually purpose-designed labs, studios, and classrooms, and we have never had that before,” Gresham says.

The move to Monroe Hall will be a game changer for visual arts, says Bill Kitchens, M.F.A., department chair. “We have a lot of changes to our degree programs that we want to institute, and they are tied right in with our move into this new facility,” he says.

The department’s space in St. Mary’s Hall on the Broadway campus is short on square footage, and areas such as printmaking, drawing, and painting are crammed into tiny spaces. “We are three pounds in a one-pound box,” Kitchens says.

With the move, visual arts will be able to increase its space in every area and will have bigger offices and classrooms. “It’s a far better facility,” he says.

Donors Play Key Role

Marquette Hall has long served as the iconic image of Loyola, flanked by the horseshoe and “touchdown” Jesus statue. “We never send out pictures of Monroe Hall, and yet it’s so important to the campus,” Wiseman says.

The building’s importance is what Loyola is working to drive home to alumni and prospective donors who can help pay for the building’s construction.
Loyola took advantage of favorable market rates to offer $80 million in bonds for the $93 million project, says Wiseman. The $13 million balance will come from philanthropic donations.

So far, Loyola has received two leadership gifts from the Edward G. Schlieder Foundation and the J. Edgar Monroe Foundation. “Those two gifts together are more than 10 percent of the $13 million,” Wiseman says. “Just two donors taking that much of a lead is significant.”

The university is seeking out interest from other major donors and will look to its broader base of alumni and others who can help complete the funding as a group.

For those who make a sizeable donation, there will be naming opportunities in new spaces such as labs, a new lecture hall, and the building’s made-over lobby.

Fundraising will be a complex undertaking, but Wiseman believes the Loyola community will be pleased with the end result. “The outside of the new building is going to blend much more beautifully with the campus, and also with the neighborhood,” he says.

“A Short-Term Sacrifice”

These days, a massive crane towers over Monroe Hall, and workers are banging away daily. But classes must go on. Given that Monroe Hall provides 40 percent of the classroom space at Loyola, there’s some logistical maneuvering involved with keeping construction and academics going simultaneously.

Renovation of the fifth floor began in January, and the project is taking place in phases so construction can progress while classes are in session, Jacobs says.

“The intent is to systematically move down the building in phases and relocate departments as infrequently as possible,” he says.

In the first round of moves, some departments will move out of the building permanently. These include: Information Technology, the Academic Resource Center, Internal Audit, Professional and Continuing Studies, the University Honors Program, and Upward Bound.

The math, sociology, and political science departments have temporarily moved to modular offices in the Mercy Hall parking lot. This will allow for construction until December 2013, when Loyola will occupy the renovated fifth floor and the north wing of the fourth floor of Monroe Hall, Jacobs says. Another round of moves will take place around this time.

Wiseman has been teaching a political science class in Monroe Hall amidst the construction. And though it can get noisy at times, he says he’s looking ahead to the final product. “It’s a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain.”

Watch a video about the Monroe Hall construction at

Read Monroe Hall Trivia.

Autumn Cafiero Giusti ’00, a communication alumna, is a freelance writer and editor.

View the complete spring 2013 issue of LOYNO.

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