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Thursday, December 1, 2022

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Obsolete Technology Annex


The ceiling in the main hallway of the Technology Annex is pockmarked with loose and damaged tiles, as well makeshift patches particle board drilled in to the tiles. The tiles themselves prevent a worse  danger as they contain asbestos. Every time a tile files, asbestos particles are kicked up in to the air, filling lungs and sticking to clothes. Long-term exposure to asbestos can cause diseases like mesothelioma. Currently, Facilities Planning and Construction is sitting “in committee” on a plan to abate and replace the tile. // Aaron Manuel / The Daily Cougar

Facilities Planning and Construction is sitting “in committee” on a plan to abate and replace the tile. | Aaron Manuel/The Daily Cougar

It is a rare gift for a building to be historical and so overlooked. When you walk from the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library across to Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall, if you veer right of PGH, you’ll notice the old one-story Technology Annex.

T1, as it is known as, is not visually impressive; it has a quaint charm about it that belies its history. The building, constructed in 1941, remains the third-oldest permanent structure on campus. The funding for the construction came from local industry leaders, according to the College of Technology’s website. The outside of the building is constructed from Texas or Cordova shellstone and is the kind of material used to build the Ezekiel W. Cullen Building. The college opened during World War II and was immediately connected to the war effort.

Fred Lewallen, the associate dean of Academic Affairs for the College of Technology, said the college’s first program was a naval training program.

“We were teaching Navy recruits the art of radar before it was called radar,” he said.

As rich in history as it is, though, the time has come to replace T1. As a history lover, it is not easy to replace such an enduring structure, but there is no avoiding it. As UH revels in its Tier One research institution status, with so little room on campus to build, the University must look within to replace and expand if it wants to compete with other Tier One campuses, especially the three in this state – the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Rice University.

Take UT — as reported by Amanda Voeller of The Daily Texan on Jan. 24, the UT System Board of Regents approved the removal of the Engineering-Science Building and its replacement by a new $310 million Engineering Education and Research Center. According to the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Master Facility Plan for Engineering, it is the first of five buildings to be built over the course of the next few years to accommodate the expanding Cockrell School of Engineering.

In the UH Master Plan, there seem to be plans to expand to the side of the College of Technology Building opposite the side facing T1, but that is still just one building with no immediate plans to renovate the other three buildings; the Cockrell School Master Plan calls for renovations to three of its other four existing structures.

Aside from keeping up with the Longhorns, there is a more pressing need to at least do something with T1 — the building within is in bad shape. Though the College of Technology and the University have spent money fixing up various parts of the building, there remains a litany of problems with T1 that must be dealt with, some sooner than later.

“We have spent a lot of money within the college refurbishing various parts of it,” Lewallen said. “The University, a few years ago, spent a lot of money fixing up one end of the building in terms of classroom; that’s the 120 hallway. All the rest, we’ve done out of college money.”

“The (main) hallway needs to be completely revised — we need a different ceiling. It has tiles containing asbestos that fall down. The dark brown (floor) tiles that you see over there, the tile itself does not contain any asbestos but the mastic glue that was used to stick them down contains some asbestos. It’s not a problem as long as it’s not disturbed, but it should be changed,” he said.

Lewallen went on to describe other problems, such as problems with the floor rising and falling with the weather and a faulty and leaking air conditioning system. These are issues that need addressing as well, but the asbestos is the big issue.

Every time an asbestos-coated tile hits the floor, it could have lasting consequences for anyone unfortunately around it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos particles are small and light and can stay in the air for a long time; asbestos particles also stick to clothing, so you take it back with you to your home or dorm and expose loved ones, roommates or just anyone you meet that day to asbestos. Even though the air conditioning system in T1 is having problems, it still works well enough that if asbestos particles get in to the system, those particles could eventually circulate into every classroom and office in the building.

The ceiling in the main hallway of the Technology Annex is pockmarked with particle board patches where missing tiles used to be, and each missing tile represents a potential exposure to asbestos over the years. While some who are exposed to asbestos never get sick, the thought of potential health risks like mesothelioma would scare anyone.

Lewallen says there is a proposal to abate, remove and replace the tiles though a decision to do it is “in committee” with Facilities, Planning and Construction and has not been submitted for funding. It is imperative that Facilities, Planning and Construction put students, faculty and staff’s safety first and have these tiles replaced before the year is out. This is something that should have been done decades ago, but for the long-term future, it would be more cost-effective to replace the building altogether.

“A three- or four-story building with roughly the same footprint as T1? Maybe a $60 million building — that’s a lot of money,” Lewallen said. “We figure it will take $5 to 10 million to put T1 back in first-class shape — fixing all the hallways, all the floors, all the ceilings — everything. Unfortunately, when you got through, you would still have an old building that wouldn’t have as much room as we’d like.”

T1 is a building with a lot of history and carries with it the affection of College of Technology’s staff and faculty, like Lewallen. It was difficult writing this piece because after talking with him and several College of Technology staff, I understand that affection; however, that does not change what that building is.

Lewallen says the building was “nearly abandoned twice” and that “the University looked several times into tearing the building down.” Perhaps it’s time the University finally did so and did something with the space that would be more conducive to the College of Technology. If the ongoing demolition drama with the Astrodome is teaching us anything, it is that not everything, no matter how historical, is worth holding on to.

Aaron Manuel is a print journalism senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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