Vanderbilt renovation connects team with honeybees, a time capsule and more

In Nashville, Tennessee, honeybees have a home in a historic campus clock tower. Their residency, though not taking up much space, isn’t taken lightly, for their hive is at the heart of a Skanska project.

1 / 2 Among mortar joints in the top of a nearly 150-year-old clock tower on Vanderbilt University’s campus, honeybees have taken up residence. As our team renovates Kirkland Hall, home to the clock tower, they’re prioritizing the livelihood of the bees every step of the way.
2 / 2 Our Kirkland Hall renovation project at Vanderbilt University is incorporating StructionSite technology throughout the project’s lifecycle, providing the team with 360-degree photo documentation of site progress.

Protecting the bees is important as they’re among a group of pollinator species at risk of global extinction according to a United Nations study.

Currently, our team members are renovating the nearly 150-year-old Kirkland Hall, on Vanderbilt University’s (VU) campus.

Aside from determining the best construction work plan for the endeavor, two priorities have been central to our team’s daily renovation work: maintaining the rich history of the building and limiting disruption to the livelihood of the bees in that building’s mighty clock tower.

Opened in 1875, Kirkland Hall was one of VU's five original buildings.

It was first called Main Building and contained all of VU's classrooms and laboratories when it opened. A chapel, museum and library were also central to the building.

In 1905, a fire destroyed components of the building, and it required rebuilding.

Two major changes characterized the building’s reconstruction phase. Main Building became Kirkland Hall, in honor of James Hampton Kirkland, VU's second chancellor.

Additionally, a 170-foot clock tower was constructed, quickly becoming a visual cornerstone of the building, and VU's campus overall.

Kirkland Hall hasn’t been renovated since 1988, when HVAC and electrical systems were installed.

Nearing its 150th birthday, coinciding with Vanderbilt’s Sesquicentennial, an upgrade is needed.

History and honeybees shape project team’s approach

The $44 million Kirkland Hall renovation addresses ADA compliance requirements and flooding mitigation. The scope of work also involves restoring the building’s roof, tiles and stairs. Restrooms are also being redesigned to be gender neutral.

The renovation fits with the school’s long-term vision for campus planning, FutureVU.

In a news piece published on VU’s website, Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain emphasized how the renovation aligns with campus plans around accessibility and inclusion, connectivity and community enhancement, and sustainability.

The renovation is a true Nashville undertaking. Centric Architecture is managing the design component, and Barge Cauthen and Associates is managing the engineering.

Alongside the design team, Superintendent Adam Elliot is becoming familiar with which historical elements can be preserved, and which will have to be carefully replicated.

In every decision, the team is guided by its commitment to restoring the building to its safest state.

“The design team is very conscious of honoring the historical value of the building. There are a lot of steps being taken to restore it to the way it would have looked 100 years ago,” says Adam.

Old concrete coffered ceilings are one design element receiving attention.

“The original intent was to leave the coffered ceilings in place and refurbish as needed,” says Adam. “When we started investigating, we felt they had deteriorated to the point that they were no longer safe.”

During demolition, the coffered ceilings were removed and replicas will soon take their place.

Honoring the building’s history extends beyond making thoughtful choices around refurbishing or replacing structural elements.

In some cases, unexpected objects are encountered and must be handled with care.

“There was a time capsule placed at the cornerstone of the building when it was first built in the late 1800s,” says Adam. “The team is working with VU to open up the time capsule and place a new one inside.”

Fast forwarding to the present, discovering a large hive of honeybees early in construction has kept the team on their toes.

While cleaning and replacing some of the mortar joints in the iconic clock tower, the team found that a hive had built a home in the top of the clock tower.

“One mortar joint serves as the path for the bees to enter and leave their nest,” says Adam.

Our team is hoping they can leave the bees in place and complete work around them.

“If that doesn’t work, we have contacted a couple of beekeepers about relocating the hive,” Adam says. “Either way, the bees were here before us, so we’re doing everything we can to make sure we don’t harm them.”

Technology keeps a pulse on restoration progress

Recognizing the weight of the historic renovation, the team is comprehensively documenting the road to completion with trusted technology.

The jobsite is incorporating StructionSite, which enables contractors to capture photo documentation of their jobs in 360-degrees.

Photos captured by the tool are organized automatically by date and floor plan location.

 “At the end of the project, we can look at every single room in the building and see how we progressed week by week,” says Adam.

Seeing the complete transformation of Kirkland Hall isn’t too far off, either. The project is on track for completion in spring of 2023.

The structure’s storied history occupies the most headspace for Adam and the rest of the team.

“My favorite part of the project has been learning about the history of the building,” says Adam. “Imagine telling the masons that set the stone for the walls that 150 years later we would be measuring those walls using laser scans and computer screens.”