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The University of Alabama

Preserving the Past, Protecting the Future

The Marr’s Spring cisterns brim with fresh water after being cleaned and repaired by the exterior envelope team. Repurposing bricks from the old Gorgas House fence maintained the cisterns’ historic look.

Mike Spooner and his exterior envelope team love to get their hands on buildings that need help. With their combined years of experience in stonemasonry, bricklaying, window glazing, carpentry, limestone repair and maintenance, concrete repair and installation, and a host of other construction skills, the team has been working steadily to bring older UA buildings back to what crew member Scott Matherson called “their glory days.”

After a four-decade career in construction, Spooner came to UA to lead a maintenance team that would repair UA’s buildings in a way that would respect architectural design and historical value while also ensuring structural soundness.

Tim Leopard, assistant vice president for construction administration, was aware of the unique needs of older buildings. He discussed with Spooner the benefits such a team would bring to UA.

The exterior envelope team focuses their efforts on the outside of buildings. The “envelope” is the complete outer structure, from foundation to roof. “It’s the skin of the building,” Spooner said.

Spooner is enthusiastic about the work at UA and proud of the men he works with, many of whom he already knew  professionally and chose to be on the team.

“These gentlemen are enthusiastic and determined to make time-tested improvements toward preserving the classic and traditional appearance of UA. Each repair or restoration uses techniques and materials that should last 30-plus years,” Spooner said.

Besides Matherson, team members are Jeff Kizziah, Joe Densmore, Michael Shirley, Cheyenne Reach, Coby Parson, Adrian Mills and Demetrice Johnson.

“Each of the primary mechanics and their helpers have individual skill sets in more than one trade. We pair up the crews as often as possible, allowing each to learn from the other,” Spooner said.

Never knowing what challenge is coming next is part of what makes the job appealing to Matherson. “You’re not doing the same thing every day. You’ve got buildings out here 100 years old that have never had complete maintenance,” he said.

“One day we might be replacing mortar or working on windows and the next day we might be laying bricks or repairing limestone or working on a cistern for Marr’s Spring.”

Col. Duane Lamb is assistant vice president for facilities and grounds. When asked about the team’s contribution, he said, “This team of dedicated professionals has methodically cleaned entire buildings, repaired thousands of bricks, sealed hundreds of windows, restored multiple deteriorated limestone elements and ensured water-tight integrity, all in less than two years. With their expertise, Denny Chimes, Reese-Phifer Hall, Carmichael Hall, Lloyd Hall, Gorgas House, and the historic cisterns at Marr’s Spring, just to name a few, now look as new and esthetically pleasing, not to mention weather resistant and structurally sound, as the day they were built.”

Newer buildings on campus benefit from the construction administration department’s attention to the envelope. It will be decades, Spooner said, before those buildings require envelope maintenance. For now, the team still has plenty of work to do restoring older buildings to their original beauty.