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Olin House project preserves history, creates livable public and private spaces

July 30, 2008 By Dennis Chaptman

A privately funded renovation of Olin House, the official residence of the University of Wisconsin–Madison chancellor, preserves the 97-year-old home for future generations and provides 21st century energy efficiency and improved access for those with disabilities.

“The functionality of Olin House had badly deteriorated over time, and some of its infrastructure dated to 1911 and was failing,” says Chancellor John D. Wiley. “This project has made it a more livable home and more hospitable for the many guests who visit each year.”

The home leads a double life. In addition to serving as the chancellor’s private residence, the home is routinely used for many important fundraising and recognition events, as well as for community and alumni-relations functions. Typically, the home is the site of between 35 and 70 major events each year.

Wiley and his wife, Georgia, purchased a condominium in downtown Madison and moved out of Olin House in 2006, as design work on the renovations began. Wiley will step down as chancellor on Sept. 1 and will not move back into the home.

Olin House, located at 130 N. Prospect Ave. in Madison’s University Heights neighborhood, was bequeathed in 1924 by attorney John Myers Olin for the use of UW–Madison. If it is not used as the chancellor’s residence, it reverts back to the J.M. Olin Trust.

The Olin House restoration will cost around $2.4 million. The project reorganized the space in the public and private areas of the home, added energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and replaced failing plumbing and wiring systems. No taxpayer funds were used for the renovation project.

“This is the first comprehensive renovation at Olin House, and the changes we’ve made will ensure that this historic home will be energy efficient and welcoming for many years to come,” says Mark Bugher, director of the University Research Park who oversaw the renovation project. “Olin House is an asset to the community and university, and these changes were essential to preserving it.”

The decision to undertake the renovations followed a recommendation of the Olin House Advisory Council, a group of community and university volunteers. The group found that the tradition and history of the home, and its significance to the community, made renovation necessary.

Over time, many of the mechanical and heating systems in the home were piecemealed together, making them less efficient.

The water pipes were original and clogged with mineral deposits and corrosion, which sometimes caused them to burst. And the steam heating system was antiquated, inefficient and in frequent need of repair.

New wiring, data and security systems, plumbing, state-of-the-art heating gear — including an earth-friendly geothermal heating and cooling system — were added. Also part of the renovation were the addition of an elevator, a fully equipped first-floor catering kitchen and other improvements that make the home more accessible to all guests.

Accessible bathrooms were added, and the elevator serves the basement through the third floor of the home, also improving access.

Architect Arlan Kay of Architecture Network Inc., which designed the improvements, says energy efficiency was a driving force in the Olin House project.

“The existing mechanical systems were a mess, inefficient, a tangle of ductwork and machinery, and a patchwork of repairs,” Kay says. “The multilayered systems were concentrated in the basement, which made it difficult to push air to the upper floors.”

A high-efficiency boiler now serves the home, and one forced-air system serves the basement and first floor and another serves the living quarters of the home. They are augmented by the geothermal system serving the home’s second and third floors.

High-efficiency air-conditioning units, water heaters, plumbing fixtures and insulated plumbing were also installed. Leaking doors and windows were repaired, new storm windows were installed, and new insulation was installed in the attic and on all exposed exterior walls.

With its second and third floors primarily serving as the chancellor’s private residence, Olin House is also an important ceremonial and public event venue. Its first floor is often used for public and university functions.

The renovations include new arched energy-efficient windows overlooking the gardens in a sunroom just off the first-floor gallery. They replaced leaky, unsightly 1950s-era windows.

In the renovation, efforts were made to determine the colors used in the original home and replicate them.

On the second floor, a master bedroom was transformed into a living and dining area and a kitchen. It also contains a master bedroom, the chancellor’s library and office that features oaken crown molding, a sitting room and a laundry room. The centerpiece of the third floor is a wood-beamed study with a sweeping view of the grounds.

The basement has also been renovated, providing storage space for dishes, linens and furniture, and a staging area for caterers. The billiard room, part of the original home, was also refurbished, and two accessible bathrooms were added near a new walkout to the lawn to accommodate guests at outdoor functions.

Tags: events