UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Link building connects, improves access to O’Kelly and Gillette halls

New structure provides covered passage between, ADA-compliant access to key campus buildings

The new link building (center) connects, for the first time, O’Kelly and Gillette halls with a covered passage and provides Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access to both buildings. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

For decades since the opening of O’Kelly Hall in 1948, students there had one rule before they exited to scurry to Gillette or Education halls in winter: Bundle up.

Students using wheelchairs, meanwhile, had to supplement that rule with another: Bundle up – and steel yourself. Because not only did the trip involve venturing out into the elements, but also the wheelchair access to O’Kelly involved a long ramp located on the service side of the building.

And that was a very inelegant way of accessing the second-busiest classroom building at UND.

“This was a service parking lot for the longest time,” said Brian Larson, director of construction management at UND, speaking of the service drive and parking area between O’Kelly and Gillette halls.

“That’s where the ramp was built many years ago, to provide access to the elevator. And no, it was not a very impressive entrance into one of our better buildings on campus.”

The interior of the new link building shows the building’s usefulness as a social area as well as a passageway. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

But thanks to a $3.5 million construction project, that situation has changed, forevermore. A new and recently opened link building now provides a covered transition between O’Kelly and Gillette halls.

Moreover, the link building provides upgraded, ADA-compliant access to both buildings.

“Now we’ve created a great entrance for everyone on campus, and it provides access not only to O’Kelly and Gillette, but also to the buildings they connect to: McCannell and Education,” Larson said.

In addition, the new structure is far more than a narrow, tunnel-like passageway between the buildings. Instead, it’s a vestibule with high ceilings, tall windows and lots of natural light, plus chairs and other furniture that invite students to linger.

“We think it adds a lot to the connectivity on campus, given all of the buildings that this joins,” Larson said, as he toured the new space with UND Today. “And now we have this nice social space here, too, for people on campus to use between classes.

“It’s just a huge improvement for everyone.”

Brian Larson, director of construction management for UND, stands in the new link building by one of the building’s access points to O’Kelly Hall. Photo by David Dodds/UND Today.

The link building is the capstone of a much bigger renovation project, one that contractors have been working on for nearly a decade: the complete renovation of O’Kelly Hall. Here’s a passage from the 2016 Master Plan that describes the way things used to be:

“The building and most of the infrastructure is 70 years old. … The building has little to no air conditioning or outside makeup air. Most of its existing HVAC infrastructure is also well beyond its useful life. The water and sewer piping is original and prone to corrosion and failure.

“The building electrical service is also beyond its useful life and requires replacement. Windows are original single pane and very energy inefficient. Much of the building interior finishes and lighting needs to be upgraded. One of the elevators is beyond its useful life and non-code compliant.”

But over the past few years, contractors went through O’Kelly floor by floor, replacing the windows and upgrading virtually all of the building’s other core elements. The result is a structure whose Collegiate Gothic exterior – which the renovations left unchanged – contrasts nicely with its modern, climate-controlled and computer-friendly interior, making for still one of the busiest but now one of the freshest and most engaging buildings on campus.

And as the new interiors took shape, “it was the right time to come in and complete the accessibility solution, which is the link building,” Larson said.

“We’re doing everything we can to make all of the buildings on campus as welcoming as possible.”

EAPC Architects Engineers served as architect and McGough Construction as lead contractor for the link building.