Coon Building Renovation Earns Acclaim As Outstanding Design Project

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The $9.1 million renovation of Georgia Tech's J.S. Coon Building - the new home of the School of Psychology -- earns praise in the November 2003 issue of American School & University.

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The $9.1 million renovation of Georgia Tech's J.S. Coon Building - completed on time, under budget and ready for occupancy this fall -- earns praise in the November 2003 issue of American School & University.

The respected trade publication follows trends in construction, design and planning of facilities at schools, junior colleges and universities throughout the United States. This month's issue honors the J.S. Coon Building renovation as one of 16 outstanding buildings in the Renovation/Modernization category of the 2003 American School & University Architectural Portfolio, compiled annually since 1983.

"We're very proud of the new facility, and I think everybody at Georgia Tech can be proud of it," said Randy Engle, chair of the School of Psychology.

The renovation, designed by the Atlanta architecture firm of Jova Daniels Busby, transformed the early 20th century building on Cherry Street and behind Tech Tower into a 21st century home for the students, faculty and staff of Georgia Tech's School of Psychology.

The Coon Building was erected in 1912 and was first called the New Shop building. It later was renamed in honor of John Sayler Coon (1854-1938), one of the Institute's original faculty members. "Uncle Si," as students knew him, was a professor of mechanical engineering who retired in 1922.

The Coon Building's original architect, Francis Palmer Smith, also was head of Georgia Tech's first Achitecture Department, formed in 1908.

"We are particularly pleased that efforts have been made to preserve this important historic building designed by one of our own," Georgia Tech architecture Professor Robert Craig said.

Between October 2001 and September 2003, Uncle Si's campus namesake was transformed through an interior demolition and total renovation that included various changes to the building's exterior plus construction of an 11,000-square-foot addition and a 4,200-square-foot mezzanine. Architects and designers went to great lengths to maintain or incorporate some of the building's original architectural features into its new floor plans, Engle said.

"The Coon Building is one of the most historic buildings on campus, and since we have so few like it, keeping the historic qualities of the building was something we wanted to do from the beginning," he said. "When we first started looking for a new home, the Coon building didn't seem like a real good match. But we worked with several architects and designs, and eventually we found ways to make the building work for the School of Psychology."

Gary Petherick in the Office of Facilities was project manager for the Coon renovation, and he said he couldn't be more proud of the final result.

"I have been fortunate to have been involved with four other major renovations of historic buildings during my career at Tech, and I can tell you it is always a good feeling to see our older buildings brought back to life," Petherick said. "In my opinion, one of the things that makes [the Coon renovation] stand out is the way the interior was made new while allowing the character of the original building to be retained."

He said a good example of this is how the building addition allowed the old shop wing to be renovated, making full use of the story-and-a-half space and bringing part of the building exterior inside.

"It created a very interesting, atrium-like space," Petherick said. He and Engle said that many unique challenges cropped up through the project. For example, making some rooms in the former mechanical shop quiet enough for researchers to conduct sensitive research requiring concentration and few distractions for test subjects was a major hurdle.

"With the Whistle right across the street, well, noise was a problem for us," Engle said. But designers tackled it by adding extra insulation to labs and testing spaces while keeping many of the interior, exposed-brick walls visible to occupants, he said.

And, again, because of the building's location in the Georgia Tech Historic District, it was important that Coon's exterior appearance be altered as little as possible, Petherick said. It was no easy task.

"The original building was made up of three wings, and the not all of the existing floor levels matched," he said. "One of the challenges faced by the designers was to make the building accessible [to the disabled], and this was accomplished by a combination of interior ramps and an elevator. In addition to the problems posed by the historic nature of the building … many unforeseen conditions in the old building challenged the contractor and the designers during construction. But these were overcome by maintaining a team-work focus between Georgia Tech, Jova Daniels Busby and Juneau Construction."

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  • Created By: Matthew Nagel
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Nov 16, 2003 - 8:00pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:02pm