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Feldman, Jim / The buildings of the University of Wisconsin

Old heating plant,   pp. 110-112

Page 111

Fig. 2. The new university heating plant in 1908,
University Avenue in foreground, looking south
west, possibly from the roof of the chemistry building
at University and Charter. [9/5 Heating Plant, jf-32]
ture Hall freed it up for the home economics depart-
ment. The Washburn observatory and its offices and
the solar and student observatories, were still heated
by on site stoves and furnaces. The director of the
observatories (George Comstock) discovered that the
thermal effects from the agricultural heating plant
stack and his own chimneys were adversely affecting
his observations, and began to agitate for connections
of the buildings to the central plant. Also the old
heating plants were beginning to age badly. Engineer-
ing professor and steam plant superintendent, Storm
Bull, had a litany of failures and obsolete equipment
for the regents, with harsh observations about the
increasing loads being applied to those old facilities.
Professor Bull and university architect Arthur
Peabody (who consulted with Philadelphia architects
Laird and Cret) began to work on plans for a new
central plant, which would incorporate as many of the
new developments in central heating as the university
could afford. By November 1905 the regents had decided on a site (block 5 of the Brooks Addition,
comer of University and Bruen [later Orchard] Streets], they resolved to purchase or condemn the
property required to build at that site. Financial problems led them to delay the project until 1907.
Then in the spring of 1907 president Van Hise submitted to the board of regents the plans of
"Architect Peabody and professor Bull respecting the new heating plant." I The regents adopt the
plans and reiterate the previous choice of site and plans to condemn land needed to lay railroad tracks
to the site. The resulting condemnation proceeding eventually came down to lawyers, guns and
money as the owner A. W. Gratz presented armed resistance to the construction of the rail spur.2
They also opened bids for the structural steel for the building at the afternoon meeting, selecting the
Worden Allen Co. Authorization for bids on the building's construction was also passed.3
On June 25, 1907 the construction contract was signed by T. C. McCarthy, an old favorite of
the regents, calling for construction of the entire building, except for the chimney and the erection of
the structural steel, for $55,000. The job was to be completed by April 1, 1908. The chimney con-
struction contract went to the Alphonsis Custodis Co. The foundations were ready for the steel
erectors by August 27. The slow progress on the heating plant became a concern which architect
Peabody voiced in a letter to president Van Hise in December 1907, "the limit of time on the contract
is April 15th, 1908 but I believe it will be impossible now to complete the work within that time." He
was right. The construction dragged on throughout 1908, Peabody and Bull allowed the chimney
contractors an extension on their contract until June 15, 1908. The delays were not all McCarthy's
fault. It was a huge project, involving several different contractors, using several relatively unfamiliar
technologies (including structural steel framework, reinforced concrete, and a 250 foot chimney, at
that time the tallest structure in Madison), and all oversight being handled by Peabody, a newcomer to

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