To students attending Fordham in the 1940s and 1950s, the basement of Keating Hall was a center of student life. “The McGinley Center didn’t exist yet,” said Brian Byrne, Ph.D., vice president for administration. “This was the place where everyone congregated between classes and hung out,” he said.
Once the McGinley Center was built, the role of the basement changed: a few faculty offices and classrooms were still used, but by and large the area was used for storage of more than one million volumes belonging to the University library. The light which once streamed in through the generous skylights was cut off to preserve the precious books; Keating basement was a “dark, uninviting place,” said Byrne.
The completion of the William D. Walsh Family Library in 1997 gave Fordham a chance to restore Keating to the active hub it had been while adding several modern touches. The basement now features a language laboratory with live satellite feeds beamed into individual learning stations, a faculty technology center where teachers can learn to use Fordham’s “smart” classrooms, and a growing media services department. A key factor for the school, said University’s engineering project manager Donald Hayes, was creating a comfortable space for the sizable commuter population, which now has several sofas and study tables at its disposal.
Radio station WFUV and the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (GRE) have swapped spaces, with GRE located in the radio station’s former third-floor digs. WFUV now boasts a lovely conference room and state-of-the art equipment that Hayes said is the equal of any public radio station in the country, as well as seven sound studios and a student newsroom where aspiring broadcasters hone their craft. At the same time the GRE now has a handsome and fully functional set of offices and meeting rooms.
The restoration of Keating basement, more than five years and $14 million in the making, has returned Keating to its original grandeur—what Hayes called “a glorious, landmark building.” Also important, he said, was that the project was delivered on time and precisely on budget.
The subterranean space, 28,000 square feet in total, is now the home to seven University departments and WFUV. “It was a dual-pronged attack,” said Hayes. “We wanted to restore the natural beauty of the building, and partition it into departments.” Amenities like the original ram’s-head drinking fountains, glazed brick and the intricate terrazzo floors have been completely restored. In addition, nine new music practice rooms with Yamaha pianos and a dance studio with a specially built oak floor have been installed. The Department of Visual Arts now has a homey painting studio and Macintosh computer lab, as well.
“Father O’Hare drove the initial design,” said Hayes. “It was his baby, his building.” Hayes said that Byrne was also a major force behind the project, which was completed in seven stages over five years, and comprised Hayes’ biggest task since assuming his role at Fordham in 2002, though he also completed the new “marketplace” area in the McGinley Center. Before working at Fordham, Hayes managed the construction of high-end restaurants.
A crucial design element of the basement is its high ceilings, and “it was a struggle to keep the look intact,” said Hayes. The skylights were replaced by a Georgia-based specialty firm, which rebuilt the steel framing and used the same kind of glass as was used in the originals. “The genius of the design is these ceilings,” said Hayes. “You feel like you’re in the penthouse of some glorious office building in Manhattan.” Another element from bygone days that was restored, and draws the eye upward toward the spacious ceiling, are the original inscriptions etched into the plaster.
New elements were needed for a new century: air conditioning was installed for the first time, serving the basement as well as the first- and third-floor lecture halls. This was no mean feat when trying to maintain the high-ceilinged look and feel. An elevator was installed after the demolition during the first phase of the project in 2003.
The terrazzo, originally poured by Italian-American artisans in the 1920s, was painstakingly color-matched and repoured. The architect, Ken Bainton, of Kouzmanoff Bainton Architects, redesigned the space so that the patterns of the terrazzo were retained within individual areas even as the larger space was divided up.
“There were so many details we wanted to keep,” Hayes said. Doing that, while wrangling a coterie of architects, engineers, and general contractors forward resulted in a great sense of accomplishment for the project manager, and the Keating “warehouse” is now a point of pride for the University. “We wanted to stick to the budget but also do something beautiful. It was almost like a landmarks preservation job,” he said.
“This was no ordinary basement,” said Byrne. “And now it’s a new focus of student life.”