Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

MSOE To Redevelop Oldest Residence Hall

Aging Johnson Hall will become Hermann Viets Tower, gain glassy, southern addition.

By - Apr 29th, 2019 02:47 pm
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Rendering of Viets Tower. Rendering by Uihlein/Wilson Ramlow/Stein Architects.

Rendering of Viets Tower. Rendering by Uihlein/Wilson Ramlow/Stein Architects.

The Milwaukee School of Engineering‘s oldest and largest residence hall, Roy W. Johnson Hall, will be expanded and redeveloped as part of a $37 million effort by the university.

The 13-story tower, built in 1965, currently houses approximately 450 students. The redevelopment will add space for an additional 96 as well as providing a number of collaboration spaces. The school intends to refocus the building as a “living-learning community,” with a first floor filled with collaboration spaces, classrooms and study areas for residents and non-resident students alike.

“When I joined MSOE a little under three years ago I recognized that our residence halls needed improvement,” said university president John Y. Walz. The university has raised $32 million towards the effort to-date, with approximately $20 million coming from a memorial fund for the late university president Hermann Viets, for whom the revamped building will be named.

The university plans to add a glassy tower to the building’s southern facade, which will include additional residences, bathrooms and two-story “collaboration hubs.” The hubs will allow the university to group floors by degree program or interest to encourage collaboration.

“This living-learning community will be designed to support MSOE’s hands-on, application-oriented approach to learning,” said Walz.

Walz characterized the current residence hall as “tired” at a press conference announcing the plan.

MSOE Board of Regents president Dan Moceri, who founded Convergint Technologies, joked that while the residence hall was equal to its peers when he lived in it 40 years ago, times have changed and the building hasn’t. Sophomore student Jasmine Thevarajoo, who serves as a resident assistant in the building, added: “Our residence halls formerly took the brunt of many jokes, mine included.”

Yours truly, who resided in the building from 2005 through 2007, agrees. The building features dark, windowless hallways, dated bathrooms and tile everywhere. Walz said all of that will be gone, the dark hallways will have southern views through the tower addition, bathrooms will be relocated in favor of community spaces and kitchenettes, and carpeting and a host of other improvements will replace the tile. The small lobby at 1121 N. Milwaukee St. will be redeveloped and a new lobby installed in the new tower. Walz drew applause from the audience when he mentioned air conditioning would be added throughout.

Construction on the new tower is scheduled to begin in May 2020 and wrap up in time for the 2021-22 school year. The university will close the tower during construction and temporarily suspend its requirement that students from outside the Milwaukee area live in university housing for their first two years.

The new tower is just one of many things happening to the university’s physical footprint. South of the new tower, a new, $34 million computer science and artificial intelligence hall is under construction. The two buildings will be linked by a new plaza built atop what is currently a surface parking lot.

Immediately west of the computer science hall the university is executing a $9 million redevelopment of the historic German-English Academy building into Direct Supply‘s downtown office, which will connect the company directly to the university.

In recent years, the university has also developed a new home for its nursing program in the campus center building at 1025 N. Broadway, purchased a failed condominium project for use as a residence hall (Grohmann Tower) and opened Viets Field and parking garage on the northern edge of the campus. If you go back a little further, the university also added the Grohmann Museum (2007), which includes classrooms as well as art, and the Kern Center athletics and wellness complex (2004).

Mayor Tom Barrett, who characterized MSOE as the “can do school,” joked that he’s having a hard time keeping up. “When I think of the changes that have happened to MSOE in the last decade and a half, I’m having trouble remembering them all.

The physical changes to the campus of the 116-year-old university started under Viets, who served as MSOE’s fourth president from 1990 to 2015, and passed away in 2017. “We are proud that his legacy and MSOE’s legacy are so deeply intertwined,” said Viets’ daughter Hillary Viets Bowser.

In addition to gifts from Viets’ memorial fund, Walz singled out Eckhart Grohmann, Kendall Breunig and Morceri for making significant financial contributions to the effort.

The tower is named after former MSOE regent Roy W. Johnson who served as the chairman of Controls Company of America.

The attached, five-story Regents Residence Hall, built in 1990, will not be redeveloped as part of the effort. Students will continue to enter the 88-bed tower through the Johnson Hall entrance.

Walz said the university made the choice to redevelop the building rather than build an entirely new structure because of cost and the solid condition of the building.

Design work on the redevelopment is being led by longtime university partner Uihlein/Wilson Ramlow/Stein Architects. Walz said a general contractor would be selected in the coming months.

The university has approximately 2,800 students, 2,500 of which are full-time undergraduates, but Walz said enrollment is likely to grow because new degree programs, such as the recently added computer science, are outperforming expectations.

What comes next for the university? “Oh, I better not say,” said Walz in an interview. But he said he expected to announce something “sooner, rather than later.”

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