Indiana State University Newsroom

History Reconstructed: Memorable buildings find new purpose at ISU

September 19, 2011

When Terre Haute's federal building reopens next fall, the long-remembered post office corridor will resemble the image remembered from when the building first opened.

Only the people who will soon stroll past the building's historic post office boxes won't be searching for mail; they'll be heading for class.

The building that housed a downtown U.S. Post Office and federal court will maintain trademarks of its past as it hosts new classrooms and spaces for the Scott College of Business at Indiana State University. The federal building, along with the former Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library, have found new life at ISU as renovations will resurrect some of the most well-known characteristics of the buildings.

"It's important to try to preserve and save these historic buildings," said Bryan Duncan, director of capital planning and improvements at ISU. "It's got to be the ones that are right for preserving. We obviously can't preserve every building, but these two in particular are historically significant and ripe for the ability to preserve them."

The federal building project is projected to cost about $20.5 million, including federal, state and private funding, and spanned three phases of restoration and construction. The demolition needed in the project is almost complete, Duncan said. Construction crews are working on the building from the top floor down to the lower level. Drywall is being installed in some areas on the top two floors, while items such as wiring, electrical outlets and vents are being installed on the lower floors, Duncan said.

The renovations will juxtapose the federal building's 21st century-style construction and technology with early 20th century art deco traditional architecture. University students may be using Skype to talk with peers anywhere in the world, while in the nearby former federal courtroom an audience will listen to a prominent speaker detail expectations of future business leaders against a backdrop of the Magna Carta's signing.

"It is a bit dusty now," Nancy Merritt, dean of the Scott College of Business, said of the prized mural. "However, as renovations continue, the painting will be cleaned by art restorers, and it will look fantastic."

Students will learn in specifically designed classrooms throughout the building, including a financial trading room and a new Sales and Negotiations Laboratory, which will include breakout rooms equipped with technology to record students' practice sessions as they hone their sales tactics and negotiation skills.

"Through this type of hands-on learning, our students will develop the type of professional skills that enable them to become highly successful members of the workforce," said Jon Hawes, marketing professor and director of the Sales and Negotiations Center. "We are excited to be able to offer new capability to our students and hope to also increase our community engagement through use of the Sales and Negotiations Center."

Construction crews were at times challenged with efforts to preserve some traditional elements of the building while renovating other areas to prepare for the business college, Duncan said.

"For example, in the historic corridor, that ceiling is close to 20 feet tall, and being able to get utilities around and through in that area to the entire building is a major challenge," he added.

The $250,000 Fairbanks Hall renovation began in May and is nearly done. The building's ceramic tile floor was cleaned and refurbished during the project, Duncan said. About 95 percent of the building's ceramic tile flooring has been restored, said Scott Tillman, university architect at ISU who designed the project.

Some ductwork and pipes also were relocated to the attic, and equipment was installed near the roof to help melt ice and snow. Crews also repaired some of the plaster near the dome ceiling.

When the library first opened, the first floor had an open space design; contractors replaced some partial drywall that had been installed since the building opened with a glass wall to give more of an open feeling, Tillman said.

"It enhanced the space back to what the original appearance might have been like," he added.

The rehabilitation projects are just two in a list that is keeping construction crews busy. There are typically about 20 projects ranging in size happening during the summer, Duncan said.

But the federal building renovations will continue to keep crews working until next summer. ISU faculty and staff members are scheduled to move in to the finished space next July before starting school in August.

That's good news to Bruce McLaren. The associate dean of the Scott College of Business remembers when he first moved into his transitional office - more than 30 years ago.

"We've been in a temporary space since 1980," McLaren said in his office in the Scott College, which is currently headquartered in one of the Statesman Towers. "This is a residence hall."

The new federal building will also continue to serve Terre Haute as it has in the past. Once open, the building will house the Scott College along with modern post office boxes and a postal station on the structure's west end.

Photo: (Photo illustration by ISU/Tony Campbell)
Nancy Merritt, dean of the Scott College of Business at Indiana State University; ISU student Brittany Kirk; Bruce McLaren, associate dean of the Scott College; and Diann McKee, vice president for business affairs, finance and university treasurer at ISU, review blueprints of the federal building renovation in the federal courtroom. The federal courtroom will be restored to similar condition as it was when the federal building first opened.

Photo: (Photo illustration by ISU/Tony Campbell)
Nancy Merritt, dean of the Scott College of Business; Bruce McLaren, associate dean of the Scott College; Diann McKee, vice president for business affairs, finance and university treasurer at ISU; and ISU student Brittany Kirk talk on the first floor of the federal building. The federal building is currently being renovated to house the Scott College of Business. The renovated building is scheduled to open next fall.

Photo: (ISU/Sam Barnes)
Two people sit in Fairbanks Hall at Indiana State University. Fairbanks Hall underwent a $250,000 renovation, which included cleaning and refurbishing the building's ceramic tile flooring.

Writer and Media Contact: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or