Feature — 31 January 2011
Ayres Hall: Better than New

By Elizabeth A. Davis

On a hallowed hill in Tennessee,
Like beacon shining bright.
The stately walls of old UT
Rise glorious to the sight.

When Mary Fleming Meek wrote these words to UT’s alma mater in 1928, perhaps she was looking up at Ayres Hall, the now-iconic building on the UT Knoxville campus.

Ayres Hall is nearly 90 years old, and after a massive renovation, the building is looking better—and operating more efficiently—than ever.

Alumni who visit Ayres Hall in warm months will immediately notice one of the most profound effects of the renovation—air ­conditioning. No more sweltering in the building after working up a sweat climbing the Hill.

Classes in Ayres resumed in the spring semester, and the offices of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Arts and ­Sciences Advising Center, and Department of Mathematics offices are located in the building.

The university will seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building System) certification for Ayres, a difficult achievement for a renovation. UT expects to reap many savings from the efficiencies.

During the renovation, 95 percent of the structural elements of the building were salvaged, and 692 tons of waste were diverted from the landfill. The wood floors were removed, repaired, refinished, and reinstalled where possible. Sensors turn lights off if rooms are unoccupied and dim them during daylight hours.

There are some changes in appearance: architect Grant C. Miller’s original plans called for a north patio, which was added. Also installed was more marble in the corridors, deleted for cost savings during original construction (1919–21). Marble benches were added to provide seating space for students waiting for classes. Three elevators were installed, and the 1970s elevator in the grand lobby was removed and the marble pillars restored. Restrooms were upgraded.
 
Original slate blackboards remain throughout the building, but faculty members will more likely use the new glass-boards, which work with any kind of marker, pen, or even crayon. All classrooms are “smart” classrooms, and the building is fully equipped with wireless technology.

And finally, there are clocks on all four sides of the tower, and they all have hands; lack of funding had previously prevented clock hands from ever being installed. An electronic carillon sounds chimes at each hour and, once again, Ayres Hall is in sync with life on campus.

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