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Feldman, Jim / The buildings of the University of Wisconsin
(1997)

State highway lab,   pp. 236-237


Page 237

had been in the works since at least September and grants the highway commission the wedge of land
bounded by Randall Street, the railroad tracks, and a north south line to the west of Randall Street.
The lease was for forty years, and was non- renewable. It allowed the state to erect a building for
materials testing, marking and signing facilities and other functions. The state would provide educa-
tional and research facilities. The university besides providing the land, agreed to remove a rail spur
from the site, and to provide heat and electricity to the building at a reasonable rate. The state agreed
to maintain the building, sidewalks and roads around it in good repair, and to remove the old building
on Bascom Hill. At the end of the lease the land and building would revert to the university. This
lease was signed in December 1937.3
Although the regents had retained the right to approve of the plans for the building, no record
has been found that they ever so approved. The building was designed by state architect Arthur
Peabody, near the end of his long career in Wisconsin. Peabody's plans are dated January, 1938. The
fact that Peabody and his work were well known to the regents may account for the casual treatment.
Likewise no record has been found of the exact dates or circumstances of the erection of the building,
but most sources indicate 1939. The 162 foot X 62 foot building was steel framed, with concrete
floors and roof brick sheathing, stone trim, two stories, and a full basement.4
For the forty years of its lease the state highway lab operated in the Camp Randall location,
testing materials in conjunction with the engineering department, and making highway signs. The
metal signs were made in the state prison, but the wooden signs were made in a room at the labora-
tory. Then in July of 1976 the highway department (by then the DOT) informed the university that
they were about to build a new laboratory facility at Truax field and would vacate the old building in
the fall of 1977.5
The first use of the building by the university was as the home of computer engineering, then a
relatively small enterprise. When the engineering department remodelled the building in 1983, the
computer labs and graduate study areas were kept open during the work. This $2.3 million job by
Arnold and O'Sheridan of Madison renovated the rooms on the first and second floors and built a new
penthouse on the roof. The building was not big enough for long. In February of 1987, the university
spent another $2.5 million to add a wedge-shaped two story addition to the north side of the building
to house Computer Aided engineering labs and offices on the first floor, and biomedical labs and
offices on the second floor. Silicon fabrication facilities and plasma laboratories were installed in the
older part of the building. This job was designed by Bemers-Schober Associates of Green Bay, and
brought the building to its current (1993) configuration.6
1) Executive Committee Minutes, January 25, 1924; Roettiger to Phillips, October 29, 1937, series 24/1/1 box 139
Highway laboratory folder; Wisconsin Blue Books
2) Minutes of the Regents July 10, 1937. Millar to Phillips, October 12,1937, series 24/1/1 box 139 Highway laboratory
folder. Janda to Phillips, October 11, 1937, series 24/1/1 box 139 Highway laboratory folder.
3) Regent's Minutes, December 7-8, 1937, October 12-13, 1937; Memorandum of conference for Proposed State
Highway Commission Laboratory, series 24/1/1 box 139 Highway Laboratory folder.
4) Plans in the plans room of the physical plant department.
5) Wisconsin Blue Books.
6) University directories; plans at physical plant plans room. McGown to Edsall, July 12, 1976, papers of general
counsel Chuck Stathas.


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