The Blasting of Alden Hall: A Case Study
June 14, 2010
The first call about Alden Hall came last summer. Jeff Sweat, the second-generation owner of Jim Davis Restoration Services of Terre Haute, Ind., had been brought to the project because of his hard-earned reputation for meeting or exceeding expectations.
The first call about Alden Hall came last summer. Jeff Sweat, the second-generation owner of Jim Davis Restoration Services of Terre Haute, Ind., had been brought to the project because of his hard-earned reputation for meeting or exceeding expectations. While it was this reputation that got him the invitation, his capabilities won him the bid. But might this job be beyond his expertise?
Originally established in 1903 as the Vigo County Home for Dependent Children, the East Glenn facility quickly became known as Glenn Orphan’s Home. It was an advanced concept at the time, a small campus of buildings with the single purpose of “temporarily housing the area’s unwanted, neglected, orphaned or abused children.” The campus incorporated a main administration building, a gymnasium, a school, several residence halls, and a utilities (boiler) building, among several other, smaller out-buildings.
For over 75 years Glenn Orphan’s Home gave hope and shelter to society’s most vulnerable. In 1949 several residence halls opened, including one named Alden Hall. (Image 1). Thirty years later, following years of declining enrollment and increasing operating costs, Glenn Orphan’s Home was closed for good.
As happens with so many public institutions without funding, the buildings were boarded-up and closed to occupants. For the next decade the campus sat idle. The buildings began to fall into disrepair, with the only verifiable inhabitants being bats, raccoons and other small interlopers (Image 2). But like so many boarded-up and abandoned buildings, the place developed a reputation for housing a few earth-bound spirits.
Real or imagined, the former Glenn Orphan’s Home has had its share of ghost stories. It is widely believed that Charles Manson attended functions on the grounds while residing at the nearby Gibault School For Boys. There’s also little doubt that several other tortured souls have made this place their home, temporarily, on earth. Who’s to say that a few of those didn’t return here on a more permanent, although less bodily, basis?
In the summer of 1987 the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, newly formed on the campus of nearby Rose-Hulman University, needed a place to call home. They formed a “housing corporation” with the purpose of finding suitable residences for members of the fraternity. The “Pikes” leased the entire 26 acres and its buildings with the intention of residing in the former administration building. In 1993 the housing corporation purchased the entire campus.
Over the next decade the Pikes settled into their home in the main administration building, and, as often happens, soon outgrew the available space. During that time, the main buildings at the former Glenn Orphan’s Home, the administration building and the boiler house, were added to the National Register of Historical Places.
It was also around then that a Pi Kappa Alpha named Tim “T.O.” Orr, at the time a sophomore, began to ask questions about the old campus, and in particular about the abandoned structures.
The housing corporation contracted for a study to determine the feasibility of restoring one of the three dormitories on the campus, specifically Alden Hall (Image 3). The two-story brick-and-concrete structure would become home to a new chapter room, a sort of conference room that would accommodate the entire fraternity. In addition, the restoration of Alden Hall would allow a new dining hall, kitchen, a study room and additional housing for 20 to 30 residents.
After several months of preparations, including demolition and clearing lots of debris, Alden Hall was ready for its formal restoration. The general contractor was familiar with, and prepared for, most of the work that would be required. Roofers would repair and install the upper reaches of the building, plumbers and electricians would bring new services to the building, and various tradesmen would rebuild the structure.
This much the contractor knew. What he didn’t know was how to restore certain areas of the brick structure to a condition considered “restored.”
The masonry experts sub-contracted to perform the brick work suggested baking soda blasting for the restoration. And around Terre Haute, that meant Jeff Sweat and Jim Davis Restoration.
Initially contacted for the job of cleaning brick with baking soda blasting, the subject soon turned to blasting of another sort. The former dormitory was built using a lattice work of exposed steel trusses, joists and beams, now heavily rusted (Images 4, 5 and 6). Although structurally sound, these components would require heavy stripping and a protective coating of paint to avoid further deterioration and, ultimately, structural failure.
Brick cleaning was one thing, but heavy stripping of steel? Sweat knew his system was capable of blasting with traditional media, but were he and his crew ready to tackle it? This challenge would require some changes; however, the revenue from blasting thousands of square feet of structural steel was alluring.
He need not have worried. With a little additional training and a few new accessories, they were in business.
JDR performed approximately $22,000 worth of blasting and related services on the Alden Hall project. The company was able to provide not only baking soda blasting for the delicate brick and mortar cleaning, but also abrasive blasting for the heavily rusted components.
The blasting of the steel articles was accomplished using an artificial blasting abrasive known as synthetic olivine (Image 7). Similar in nature to silica sand, but without the associated health risks, this material provided a single pass blast. Further, most traditional abrasive grains – including this one - allow recycling through the blast system for more cost effective blasting.
Most of the steel items, including two rusted staircases (Images 8 and 9), were blasted with a #7 boron carbide nozzle at about 80 to 90 PSI. The blast system was fed compressed air from a rented 375 CFM compressor using 1.25-inch air lines, commonly called “bull hoses.”
The blasting took a couple of weeks to complete. All told, 5 or 6 different technicians participated in the blasting and related operations like recycling media through the machine, cleaning, and ultimately painting the steel. The contractor, the customer, and the crew were all very happy with the results.
With the successful restoration of Alden Hall, both the Historical Society and the members of Pi Kappa Alpha are looking ahead to a bright future.
As is Jeff Sweat. Two more nearly identical dorms to Alden Hall sit quietly nearby. Ghosts or no ghosts, he’s anticipating a future full of blasting opportunities.