Carter Construction

 Carter under construction. Photo by Michael Fuller.

Carter under construction. Photo by Michael Fuller.

Covenant College’s $19.4 million, 27-month renovation project on iconic Carter Hall is underway, and it’s nothing short of massive.

Restoration to Covenant College’s flagship building and residence hall, which is projected to take two years, began this May. Approximately 45 construction workers contracted through Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors worked throughout the summer on the north end of Carter Hall.

The project will, among other smaller renovations, give Carter a new 80-year roof. Every one of the building’s 275 outside-facing windows will also be replaced. Most importantly, Carter’s 8-inch-thick skin, added in 1980, will be stripped away and the authentic 1928 stucco skin will be patched and sealed with a watertight coating.

According to Covenant CFO Dan Wykoff, restoring the building’s original skin will significantly improve its appearance and offer visitors arriving at Carter Circle an impressive first impression of the college. Most noticeable will be a return to the original castle-like appearance of Carter tower, which was covered up during the 1980 renovations.

“When students return in January, it’s going to be a jaw-dropping moment,” says Wykoff. “They’re going to drive up the hill and say ‘oh my word.’”

David Northcutt, Covenant College’s campus architect, says planning for the project began in 2007. Northcutt and his team used access panels in order to see behind the old skin on the building, and in 2012 built mockups on the back of Carter.

The massive project is divided into four phases. Each phase is projected to take approximately six months, with construction scheduled to finish on August 17, 2017. Phase 1 consists of Carter Tower and everything north of it. Phases 2 and 3 will renovate the north central and south central portions of the building, respectively. Phase 4 will conclude the project with the south end.

Construction began with Phase I this May. The Center for Student Success, the Priesthill Center, and several administrative offices including Student Development and Records were displaced to other locations on campus. Residence halls Ghetto and Third North were relocated to Covenant-owned off-campus housing. Phase 2, which is scheduled to begin in January, as well as Phase 3, will displace Carter’s central residence halls: Second Central, Third Central, Fourth North, and Borderlands. Phase 4 will begin sometime during the summer of 2016 and will displace Second South, Third South, Fourth South, and Fifth South.

According to Northcutt, keeping traffic and people out of the “laydown area”—the fenced construction area—is a measure meant to keep students safe. “Making sure people stay safe when an occupied building and construction zone are operating in conjunction can be a logistical challenge,” says Northcutt. “I think that our construction crew is making the best of it and doing a phenomenal job.”

While David Northcutt oversees day-to-day operations, Covenant CFO Dan Wykoff manages the financial side of the Carter construction. Wykoff himself worked in the north end of Carter Hall and has been displaced by the construction.

The total cost of the project is $19.4 million. A large majority of the budget covers replacing the roof and windows and restoring the building’s original 1928 skin. Another several hundred thousand dollars went to relocation expenses, including the refurbishment of the guest cottages. The budget hasn’t changed since construction kicked off in May.

In an effort to reflect the way Carter looked as the Lookout Mountain Hotel, approximately 200 of its 275 windows, mainly in resident rooms and offices, will be replaced with double windows and the other 75 will be replaced with single windows of various sizes and configurations. The roofing contractor will even be using tiles from the same manufacturer that made the tiles for the 1928 roof.

Wykoff says that Covenant made longevity of the building a priority. “We had to decide if we wanted to replace everything on the cheap,” said the CFO. “But we decided to invest in an 80 year roof and windows that will last dozens of years.”

Aside from the main three renovations—roof, skin, and windows—several smaller improvements will be made to the building.  The Resident Director’s apartment will be completely renovated and enlarged. New fire sprinklers will be installed throughout the building. Several safety concerns will also be addressed, such as the stairway to the basement and fire escape issues.

The north and south porches, which have been enclosed and used for office space for several years,  will be reopened and modernized in order to create social spaces outside Carter. Student space, to be used for club offices and student leadership, will be added below the Center for Student Success’ former space. The Student Development office will also be reconfigured  in such as way as to centralize their staff around a common area.

In many ways, such a large project has presented the opportunity for several much-needed changes to occur. The Priesthill Center has relocated permanently to Jackson Hall, giving the nursing staff more space and students much-needed privacy. The Student Success Center will also remain in the library to be closer to students and give Carter’s north porch room to expand. Additionally, temporarily converting the guest cottages to student housing presented the chance to renovate them: “They needed repair work so badly. It was the perfect opportunity to put several hundred grand toward a makeover,” Wykoff says.

Covenant administration is taking the opportunity to submit Carter Hall for consideration to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, an “official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.” The National Park Service website further specifies that eligibility for a 20% tax credit for preservation of historic structures is available to the owners of the property. If approved to be added to the list of more than one million properties on the Register, Covenant will be eligible to receive tax credits proportional to the amount spent on preserving Carter Hall. Since Covenant is a non-profit entity, the credits would be sold to a for-profit enterprise and the money used to pay expenses.

For such a large project, the Carter construction has presented few problems and surprises. David Northcutt realizes that the construction is a disruption to campus, and is “working hard to minimize that disruption at every opportunity. We appreciate everyone’s patience.”