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New building honors old wood

By David Gonnerman '90
October 30, 2008

As you come up to campus to check out the new Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, you might find it difficult to remember what campus looked like before the ring road was laid, Flaten Hall and Manitou Cottage came down and the parking lots were eliminated.

St. Olaf Cabinetmaker Gregg Menning holds some of the college's new walnut lumber. Around him are a few members of the St. Olaf Facilities staff, including (l-r) Duane Schlobohm, Todd Code, Mark Kaderlik and Paul Mullenmeister.
The 200,000 square foot Regents Hall now looks very much a part of the campus. The building features a rooftop rain collection system that provides water for the greenhouse, a planted roof, and a storm water system that manages runoff from the building and surrounding area. Inside, features include a "green" chemistry curriculum that uses water-based reactions to decrease lab waste and reduce the need for conditioned air. And in addition to "daylight harvesting," the many windows and atria throughout the structure showcase beautiful views of the surrounding area, including forest.

"It was just a continuous swath of trees," noted faculty member Charles Umbanhowar Jr. when asked by local NBC affiliate KARE 11's Boyd Huppert this summer about the area before the building began (see KARE 11 story here). Umbanhowar, a professor of biology and environmental studies, thought something special should be done to honor the 140 trees removed for the building. Like turning them into furniture. (Several hundred trees have since been planted around campus.)

So last winter a portable saw mill was set up on campus to cut the 70- to 100-year-old maple, walnut and other hardwoods into boards that were later dried in a kiln. But the wood called for special care. Urban forests typically absorb fencing and other hardware as they grow, and saws usually don't handle chunks of metal too well. "St. Olaf decided it was worth losing a saw blade or two," says St. Olaf Cabinetmaker Gregg Menning, who adds that he's grateful to his colleagues for the extra work some of them took on while he focused on crafting the benches and tables for Regents Hall.

So far Menning, who also crafted the boardroom table in Buntrock Commons and the Adirondack chairs throughout campus, has used the wood for conference room tables and benches throughout Regents Hall's long corridors. As for the beautiful, knotty grain on the finished pieces, "It makes it a little bit more real to the students and the folks that use them," he told KARE 11.

The stockpile of new lumber should supply the St. Olaf Facilities crew with wood for many years.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or