Empty no longer is that gobsmacking gulf that demolition crews created within Chase Hall late last summer. 

Starting in November and finishing last week, workers for New England Tech Air & Maine Steel filled the big canyon, located behind the back wall of Chase Hall Lounge, with a steel supporting structure for the new central stair and its connecting walkways.

As we’ve reported, the central stair and a related elevator will provide a convenient means of navigating labyrinthine Chase Hall. It will link four building levels (an existing stairway nearby will continue to serve the second story) and serve as a crossroads between the east and west ends of the building.

Chase Hall behind the construction fence in December 2022. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Chase Hall behind the construction fence in December 2022. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

On the other side of the brick wall is Chase Hall Lounge. Shown here from the 1978 addition to Chase that expanded Commons by 350 seats, the wall was the original exterior of Chase and the plain-brick rectangles were windows. At left is steel for the new central stair. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

This interior brick wall was one of Chase’s exterior walls (the plain-brick rectangles were windows) until 1978, when an addition expanded Memorial Commons by 350 seats. At left is steel for the new central stair that will fill this huge interior space. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Floor-to-ceiling steel for the central stair. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Floor-to-ceiling steel for the central stair. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Located in the 1978 addition to Chase Hall — you can tell from, among other clues, the precast  concrete slabs overhead — this newly placed structural steel will support the central stair. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Located in the 1978 addition to Chase Hall — you can tell from, among other clues, the precast concrete slabs overhead — this newly placed structural steel will support the central stair. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

This ground-level view of new structural steel for Chase Hall’s central stair shows brackets that will support stair treads. Note the distance between the floor and the first stair landing: one-half level. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

This ground-level view of new structural steel for Chase Hall’s central stair shows brackets that will support stair treads. Note the distance between the floor and the first stair landing: one-half level. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A carpenter passes a plank through the wall studs enclosing this new staircase, which connects the lobby near Chase Hall’s Carnegie Science–facing entrance with the second floor, shown. Note Skelton Lounge at left: It will remain structurally unaltered by the current renovation, but will receive new paint and other cosmetic upgrades. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A carpenter passes a plank through the wall studs enclosing this new staircase, which connects the lobby near Chase Hall’s Carnegie Science–facing entrance with the second floor, shown. Note Skelton Lounge at left: It will remain structurally unaltered by the current renovation, but will receive new paint and other cosmetic upgrades. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A saw for cutting metal wall studs is set up in the once and future ground-level lobby in Chase Hall. The old post office was situated at left where the new studs are. The red patches are old wall paint that was covered by bulletin boards. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A saw for cutting metal wall studs is set up in the once and future ground-level lobby in Chase Hall. The old post office was situated at left where the new studs are. The red patches are old wall paint that was covered by bulletin boards. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Assembled with chains and pulleys, bolts and welds, the three-story gray metal skeleton links floor to ceiling and spans the space lengthwise. One end touches the former and future Office of Intercultural Education reception area and beneath that, offices to be created for Residence Life staff.

The other end adjoins what used to be a maze of corridors and rooms dating from Dining Services’ long Chase Hall occupancy. Corridors and rooms will again prevail here, including a new mechanical room and restrooms, but it will feel less like a maze.

Handy to Memorial Commons, the new restrooms will be an amenity particularly welcomed by folks presenting public events in that space: If you’re familiar with the pre-renovation Chase, can you imagine trying to direct innocent members of the public to facilities elsewhere in the building?

Steel for the stair: Installed during the past few weeks, this steel framework will support Chase Hall’s central stair. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)
Steel for the stair: Installed during the past few weeks, this steel framework will support Chase Hall’s central stair. Shown at bottom center is the pit for the elevator shaft. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A concrete-block elevator shaft will be built at the structure’s core. Construction of walkway floors associated with the stairs and elevator will begin this month, and those should be walkable in January. The new floors will be made from cross-laminated timber, which is something of a miracle product in contemporary construction. 

And when those floors are done, that dramatic Chase Hall abyss will be nothing but a memory. (But we’ll always keep the “This car crossed the Chase Hall Chasm” sticker on our bumper.)

If the central stair gets the boldest headline this time around, there’s plenty else happening in the 15-month Chase renovation. There’s even additional stair news. For instance, situated in the first-floor lobby that faces Carnegie Science Hall, there’s a new wooden staircase to the second floor.

A carpenter carries a board across Chase Hall’s main lobby toward a new stairway going to the second floor. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)
A carpenter carries a board across Chase Hall’s main lobby toward a new stairway going to the second floor. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Emerging near Skelton and Hirosawa lounges, this staircase replaces the now-demolished stairs in the nearby Campus Avenue entrance, which henceforth will provide street access to the ground floor only. (In addition to the central stair, stairs and elevators predating the renovation will get you from the ground floor to the first.)

Although they won’t receive cosmetic finishes till later, the new stairs are fully functional and give construction workers a second means of access to Chase’s second floor — one of those happy cases of local progress that accelerates project-wide progress. 

Also in Stair World, two new sets of concrete steps have been placed outside Chase. These too are replacements. One is situated at the loading dock, where the longtime service entrance will become a public entrance.

The other is at the Campus Avenue entrance near the loading dock. (This is the entrance served by the central stair.) The previous steps at that location lacked a landing — that is, a top step big enough to accommodate the full swing of the door and make the first step down less of a jolt — and so violated building-safety code.

New partition walls are being placed in Chase Hall's ground-floor lobby where a campus post office and the College Store entrance were formerly found. This area will again serve as a lobby, but one more important than before: Everyone entering Chase through the western entrance off Campus Avenue will pass through here. Note the shiny new HVAC ducts overhead. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

New partition walls are being placed in Chase Hall’s ground-floor lobby where a campus post office and the College Store entrance were formerly found. This area will again serve as a lobby, but one more important than before: Everyone entering Chase through the Campus Avenue entrance near the Kenison Gate will pass through here. Note the shiny new HVAC ducts overhead. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A temporary door in the Chase Hall entrance near the Kenison Gate is surrounded by pale-blue insulation. The doorway at the left opens to the ground-level lobby, and the one at right to the Little Room. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A temporary door in the Chase Hall entrance near the Kenison Gate is surrounded by pale-blue insulation. The doorway at the left opens to the ground-level lobby, and the one at right to the Little Room. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A view of the Campus Avenue entrance to Chase Hall near Kenison Gate. The black blanket in the right foreground is draped over a new retaining wall and precast concrete seating. (The blanket keeps fresh concrete at the right temperature for curing.) The orange "flowers" in the left foreground are safety caps on a patch of rebar for another section of wall. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

A view of the Campus Avenue entrance to Chase Hall near the Kenison Gate. The black blanket in the right foreground is draped over a new retaining wall and precast concrete seating. (The blanket keeps fresh concrete at the right temperature for curing.) The orange “flowers” in the left foreground are safety caps on a patch of rebar for another section of wall. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Maine Masonry concrete workers clean the surfaces of a new wall at the Chase Hall entrance on Campus Avenue near the Kenison Gate. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Maine Masonry concrete workers clean the surfaces of a new wall at the Chase Hall entrance on Campus Avenue near the Kenison Gate. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Offices and a meeting room in the first-floor Purposeful Work suite in Chase Hall. The insulation will provide soundproofing. The wooden trusses are original to century-old Chase Hall and will be left exposed. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Offices and a meeting room in the first-floor Purposeful Work suite in Chase Hall. The insulation will provide soundproofing. The wooden trusses are original to century-old Chase Hall and will be left exposed. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Wall framing and utility rough-ins for forthcoming Student Affairs offices in the former College Store, which was relocated to then-new Kalperis Hall in 2016. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Wall framing and utility rough-ins for forthcoming Student Affairs offices in the former College Store, which was relocated to Kalperis Hall in 2016. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

This view toward the central stair from Chase Hall's lobby provides a sense of the building’s multilayered personality. The arched doorway frames a corridor that's a half-level higher than the lobby. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

This view toward the central stair from Chase Hall’s lobby provides a sense of the building’s multilayered personality. The arched doorway frames a corridor that’s a half-level higher than the lobby. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Here's a view from the other side of the arched doorway seen in the previous image, facing the Chase Hall lobby and the doors to the Chase-Carnegie courtyard. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Here’s a view from the other side of the arched doorway seen in the previous image, facing the Chase Hall lobby and the doors to the Chase-Carnegie courtyard. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

In addition to the landing, the new steps rest on a frost wall, which the old ones lacked. “They would change height” as frost heaving occurred, as our Facility Services guide for a Dec. 8 tour, Senior Project Manager Paul Farnsworth, pointed out. 

If this autumn’s unusually warm weather has not soothed anxieties about the changing climate, it has at least facilitated outdoor construction. Along with new steps, workers have also been able to place precast concrete seating along the new retaining walls at the other Campus Avenue entrance, by the Kenison Gate. “I’ll gladly be spoiled by fall-like weather in December,” says Kristi Mynhier, Bates project manager for the Chase makeover.

That said, though, the project team will still wait for spring to place the automatic snowmelt system and final concrete surfaces at that entry.

Sheet rock mudded, sanded, and ready for primer in a student lounge on Chase Hall's second floor. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)
Sheet rock mudded, sanded, and ready for primer in a student lounge on Chase Hall’s second floor. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Back indoors, progress is less sensational but still impressive as wallboard crews and utilities technicians continue to turn empty space into rooms and hallways. Sun streaming into new office and lounge spaces during our visit was an auspicious sight.

Mynhier estimates that subcontractor North & South Construction Services of Newington, N.H., is about 85 percent done hanging wallboard on the second floor, and perhaps 50 to 60 percent on the first floor. MEP installations — mechanical, electrical, plumbing — must pass municipal inspections before new walls can be covered on both sides, which affects the pace of wall completion.

On the ground floor, the former College Store is now a forest of shiny metal wall studs. A student lounge and offices for Student Affairs staff will go there. The framers will head next to former Dining Services spaces near the loading dock, where Residence Life and Health Education staff will be quartered. A notable change there that occurred early in the project was the cutting of large window openings in the concrete walls of the former Package Center.

The opening in the floor of this room on Chase Hall’s second story is temporary. The floor was removed because old water damage. After repairs to the brick wall under the windows, the existing flooring will be extended to the wall again. Doug Hubley/Bates College)
The opening in the floor of this room on Chase Hall’s second story is temporary. The floor was removed because of old water damage. After repairs to the brick wall under the windows, the existing flooring will be extended to the wall again. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Headlining progress during the coming months, Mynhier says, will be the arrival of an energy-recovery ventilator — that is, a heat-and-moisture-conserving air handler — that will live in the new mechanical room near the central stair. That unit was ordered nearly a year ago and has been delayed by — you guessed it — supply-chain problems.

In January we’ll see the placement of floor coverings, resilient tiles and carpet tiles, on the second floor. Also on that floor, masons will repair the wall bricks where, as we explained last time, water damage affected the floor structure. Part of the floor in a new second-floor lounge has been removed for the interim (jacks and girders are holding up the remaining floor) and we like to stand by the safety rail, gaze down through the gap at Chase Hall Lounge, and think back to that three-story canyon that once was nearby.

This view looking upward from Chase Hall Lounge shows: (No. 1) second-story subflooring and joists whose ends were removed because of water damage; (No. 2) joist ends supported by temporary wood that is, in turn, supported by a steel beam (No. 3) and jacks ( No. 4); and vertical slots (No. 5) in the brick wall where the joist ends formerly were fitted. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

Can we talk? Campus Construction Update welcomes queries and comments about current, past, and future construction at Bates. (But not currant construction, which would put us in a jam.) Write to dhubley@bates.edu, putting “Campus Construction” or “Before automation, did air handlers wear gloves?” in the subject line.

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