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Coming Home: CEE returns to the Mason Building

The hardhats are off and migration is on: the newly renovated Jesse W. Mason Building is on schedule to reclaim its place as the home of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Fall 2013 semester.
Dr. Reginald DesRoches
More than 200 faculty, graduate students, and staff will re-inhabit the 44-year-old building, which has been empty since a $12 million rehabilitation project began in May of 2012. New furniture and equipment have already begun showing up; faculty and staff will begin moving in during the last two weeks of July.

“We expect to have a full house when the students return for classes in August,” said Karen and John Huff School Chair Dr. Reginald DesRoches. “But we don’t expect things to return to the way they were before. This is a substantially better building than the one we left.”

The project has created a new sense of purpose among faculty, students and alumni, who were committed to creating a learning environment that would keep CEE competitive.

"When we upgrade the building, we’ll be upgrading the students’ experience," said Chuck Huling, CE '74. "They’ll know that Georgia Tech alums care about their own, that we want them to have something as good – even better – than what we had."

Find out more about the history of the Mason Building Renovation Project.

What started out as an asbestos abatement project grew into a more complex investment in the school's future, DesRoches added.

Among other things, the refurbished Mason building will boast an expanded student lounge in the first floor foyer – including three glass-paneled consultation spaces that students can reserve for collaborative projects. It will have some of the most efficient wireless connectivity on campus and will also feature a digital information screen where visitors can find out what’s happening, real-time, at CEE.

New paint and carpet have brightened it up a lot, but there’s more to it than that. There’s actually more light in the building.

“There are windows in the inside walls of many classrooms and offices that allow natural light to flow into the building,” said Kevin Tarnowski, superintendent for Balfour-Beatty, the construction management company that oversaw the project. “And we replaced all of the exterior windows with low-e panes, so, it might look the same from the outside, but it’s a lot more energy efficient.”

On a recent pre-opening tour of the Mason Building, Associate Chair Don Webster hailed the updated classrooms.

“They’re larger, so we’ll be able to get the class sizes we need, and they have some new features that will make them better for teaching – like recessed screens that are set off at an angle, so you can use them while you are lecturing,” he said. “And it’s great to have the chalk boards replaced with white boards. The chalk dust was just a mess.”

So what’s missing?

The roof, for one thing. Crews are in the final stages of installing a new surface atop the 90,000-square-foot building that will put an end to the chronic leaks that were damaging the building’s interior. While not a part of the original renovation plan, the new rubber membrane is considered a necessity by members of the Capital Planning Committee. It should be completed by early September.

“Unlike the old one, which was dark, this is white and will reflect heat, rather than storing it,” said Tarnowski. “That’s another energy savings.”

The new building will also be minus the glass-encased storage room that formerly housed the building’s mainframe computer – a relic dating back to the building’s construction in 1969.

“That space, on the second floor, will be split between a conference room, a mail room, and a classroom,” said Senior Facilities Manager Andy Udell. “It's been gone for years, but a lot of us will remember it as the place where the mainframe was.”

New furniture is another eye-catching feature of the renovated Mason Building, according to Senior Educational Facilities Manager Rick Rowe.

“The priority was to replace furniture that was for the student spaces – classrooms, lounges, and things like that – because we couldn’t afford to replace everything in the building,” he said.

“All told, we were able to replace about 30 percent of the furniture. You’ll see it in a lot of the open spaces, where students gather.”

It will be awhile yet before CEE students gather in the building, but, already, the Mason Building has gotten a thumbs-up from a very important visitor: Leigh Mason Hummel, the granddaughter Jesse W. Mason himself.

“This is a great tribute to my grandfather and our family is very impressed with all of the work that’s been done to preserve his legacy,” said Leigh Mason Hummel, during a recent visit with her daughter, Mia.

“And I think I would go here,” said six-year-old Mia. “It is a nice place.”

Take a look at what's coming at the Mason Building