It’s August, and for many, that means back to school. Over the last 40 years, BRP has worked on numerous university, secondary and elementary education projects. This month, we turn our attention to Kentwood Hall on Missouri State University’s campus. Once known as the Kentwood Arms, one of the top hotels in the city, it hosted the likes of Rogers and Hammerstein, Harry Truman, Groucho Marx and even a young Ronald Reagan. Later it was repurposed into a residence hall for Missouri State University.
The Kentwood, constructed with natural stone and an English style of architecture, was built by developer John T. Woodruff in 1926. The luxury hotel featured the Crystal Dining room which was often rented for dances, banquets and meetings. The hotel was advertised as a clean, restful and attractive environment for travelers who were making their way across Route 66. “An interesting sidelight is that The Kentwood Arms ended segregation at the same time as the Heer’s Department Store in September 1960. A visit to the city by then-vice-president Richard Nixon spurred the desegregation,” (Springfield-Greene County Library)
Throughout the years it was sold to various owners until 1984 when Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) bought the building with the intention of turning it into student housing. The building was badly in need of maintenance. Over time, a number of rooms had been haphazardly renovated. What was left was a lot of inconsistency from room to room and from floor to floor. “The windows were shot, the exterior masonry was failing in a number of places and the roofs, HVAC and electrical needed replacing,” explains Tim Rosenbury, BRP Architect and Partner.
BRP was hired to help restore and renovate the hotel into student living. The exterior was truly a restoration. “There were places where we tore down areas of walls and completely rebuilt the brick. We replaced steel windows with aluminum windows whose profiles matched the original,” says Tim. The Crystal Room, lobby and front porch were updated in a historical manner to take advantage of the unique property that the Kentwood is. The expansive front lawn was also maintained.
The renovation led to other projects at the residence hall, starting with a dining hall renovation. Gerri Kielhofner, BRP Partner, led those efforts. The dining hall was renovated to upgrade existing finishes, provide seating for 100 students, provide new lighting and furniture, and offer an accessible dining area at the main entrance level. For Gerri, “I really enjoyed the redesign of the dining hall. There were some existing curves in the original design that we picked up on and reintroduced in other ways in the final layout.” Curves can be seen around a circular masonry fireplace, as well as a large circular dining area that surrounds it.
A residence life facility renovation followed. Gerri once again led the project. One of the design challenges came from trying to figure out the existing plumbing and mechanical systems hidden in the floors and shafts in the student rooms. “We asked MSU if they could have a contractor demolish a couple of restrooms in the rooms, so we could determine what to include in the renovation construction documents. They agreed to take the time and have this completed before we proceeded. The information we gleaned from this demolition work was invaluable. Change orders during construction were minimal, which is unusual for major renovation projects.” Completed in time for the 2014 semester, the project included a complete refurbishing of all student rooms, 104 in total, renovations of staff apartment and office renovations, a new kitchen area in the student lounge and new finishes in the public restrooms.
The most recent renovation was an elevator replacement and an addition of a stair tower. One of the challenges faced when doing an addition to a building is deciding how much should it blend with the existing building and how much should it stand on its own. BRP’s approach was a dual reading. “On the one hand if you wanted to see the stair tower as unique, you could because it has a glass reveal that says this is new and modern. On the other hand, we used the same materials as the existing building, allowing it to blend in,” says Tim.
Every year, a new batch of students comes in and makes the Kentwood their home. For Gerri, “the design of a residence hall has so much impact on the students themselves. After all, this is their home for several months and it is imperative that we create a warm, inviting, comfortable setting for them to live!”