News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 28, 2007

Federal Building courtroom, lobby will be preserved when ISU’s College of Business moves in

By Howard Greninger

TERRE HAUTE — A historic courtroom, first-floor lobby with post office boxes and upper-level hallways of the downtown federal building will be preserved under the National Historic Preservation Act when the building is converted into the new home of Indiana State University’s College of Business.

Documents for transfer of the building to ISU, as well as ensuring historic preservation, are expected to be completed by the end of this year, said Julia Nicolae, project manager for the federal General Services Administration.

The building will be handed over to ISU in July 2009 or earlier, Nicolae said.

Prior to that, the GSA, which already has completed a Phase I restoration/rehabilitation project, will finish a Phase II project, costing about $3.5 million. That project includes construction of a first-floor contract U.S. Postal Service area to be maintained by ISU. It has been awarded to C.H. Garmong, a Terre Haute firm.

Work can start on Phase II once that company has cleared government-required security clearances, said Regina Nally, GSA’s regional historic preservation officer.

Officials with GSA, along with architectural firms for both ISU and the GSA, answered questions Wednesday during a public meeting that outlined historic preservation goals of the reuse plan for the building at 30 N. Seventh St. in downtown Terre Haute. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The federal government deemed the courthouse unsuitable after September 2001, when new security guidelines and setback requirements were enacted. The GSA’s lease on the building expires in September 2009.

A new 14,000-square-foot federal building will be constructed downtown at 921 Ohio St. to house the U.S. Southern District and bankruptcy courts and other federal agencies.

ISU in 2009 is expected to begin a Phase III project, which will convert the building into the College of Business. Part of that project will be to reduce the width of Cherry Street, adding green space on the north side of the building to slow traffic.

In addition, the federal building will be linked with ISU’s adjacent John T. Myers Technology Center.

“We are studying a connector at this time, either a tunnel or bridge option. A tunnel would connect the lower level [of the federal building] to the lower level of the John Myers Technology Building,” said Lisa Gomperts, project manager for Schmidt Associates, an Indianapolis architectural firm hired by ISU.

“Even a bridge option offers some opportunities in terms of a visual connection with campus and also a way to highlight the university. We are still in the study phase to try to understand which option is best and the cost of the options. Our hopes are to make a decision to go along with the Phase III construction,” Gomperts said.

ISU students would move into the renovated building in 2011 or sooner, said Nancy J. Merritt, dean of the College of Business.

The total project is projected to cost $23 million, with $6 million paid by GSA. ISU is targeting a goal of $11 million to be raised from donations as part of the university’s payment, Merritt said.

“Indiana State University and the College of Business, we are very grateful and very pleased to be inheriting such a classic structure. We share a commitment to the revitalization of this building to a new use, to preserve its historic nature and significance,” Merritt said.

Merritt said the large second-floor courtroom will be used for lectures and community/university events. The room otherwise will be locked and not open for day-to-day pedestrian traffic.

Existing benches, as well as tables and chairs for lawyers, in that courtroom will go to the federal courts’ new building on Ohio Street.

The courtroom on Cherry Street contains a mural by Frederick Webb Ross of the signing of the Magna Carta, “This certainly is one of the most spectacular courtrooms in the federal government’s inventory in the Midwest. It is really quite wonderful,” Nally said.

ISU will add 8,000 or 9,000 square feet onto the south side of the existing 75,000-square-foot building to provide a larger entrance, enabling two existing north-side entrances to be preserved.

The building has three above-ground floors and one below-ground level. Classrooms will be located on the lowest level and third level of the building, Gomperts said.

Terre Haute City Councilman Todd Nation voiced concern that the building in the future may use nearby parking lots. Nation, as a member of Downtown Terre Haute Inc., said he would rather see building development on existing downtown parking or vacant lots.

Nation said he is pleased the historic building is being preserved. The building opened on Dec. 1, 1934, with an official public opening in 1935, said Michael Conly of Architura, an Indianapolis architectural firm hired by the GSA. The building was designed by Miller & Yeager, former Terre Haute architects.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.