March 26, 2019  

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Lucas Administration Building to Undergo Repairs Beginning in September

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The iconic Lucas Administration Building on The University of Southern Mississippi's Hattiesburg campus will undergo major repairs, beginning in September. (University Communications photo)

One of Mississippi’s architectural icons and the centerpiece of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus will undergo major repairs later this year.

Work to stabilize the foundation and replace approximately 72 pieces of deteriorating terracotta from the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building, will begin after Sept. 8. The $2.55 million project also includes brick masonry repointing, replacement and cleaning, and repairs and revisions to the building’s porches and columns to improve access in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Cracking and joint separation have also become visible in the structure, leading to moisture infiltration.   

The project’s contract schedule is 600 days, said Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning and Management Dr. Chris Crenshaw.

“Only materials damaged beyond repair will be replaced during the project. We will not know the extent until construction begins, and the original materials are removed from the building,” said Crenshaw. “A custom brick will be made to match the original brick for use when replacement is necessary. A terracotta specialist will also be used to assist with repairs and replacement.”

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) has played a significant role in ensuring that the repairs preserve the historic integrity of the building, constructed in the Beaux Arts style, so that it will be restored to its original grandeur.

Albert and Associates of Hattiesburg is the architectural firm consulting on the project. The firm is renowned for its work with many well-known and beloved structures on the Southern Miss campus, as well as throughout the state and region. “This project will be very detailed in nature,” said Larry Albert, lead architect for the firm. “We’re pleased to work with MDAH on this significant icon for USM.”

Architect Sarah Newton of Albert and Associates is principal consultant for the project. According to Newton, terracotta was historically used primarily as an alternative to more expensive stone in highly ornamental structures. 

“It is a high-fire clay product that is lighter than stone, but quite durable,” Newton said. “However, due to its limited structural properties, it is usually found on concrete or steel or structural masonry systems. Left unrepaired, water is allowed to penetrate to other areas which can lead to deterioration throughout the structure.”

The structure occupies the focal point of Chattanooga, Tenn. architect R. H. Hunt’s original design for the campus, with Vincent Smith, Jr. of Gulfport, Miss. ultimately serving as consulting architect when it was constructed in 1929. Southern Miss students, alumni, faculty and staff often refer to it simply as “The Dome.”

“The building’s iconic dome has appropriately become the visual symbol of the University. Virtually every logo associated with the institution bears its image,” said University Historian Dr. Bo Morgan. “In its early setting, rising stately amidst the remnants of a cutover pine forest, it well represented the spirit of the school and continues as the symbol of a rich heritage.”

The building’s occupants will be relocated to various offices across campus. “We are still working to finalize the locations before the move-out, which is scheduled to take place near the first week of August,” Dr. Crenshaw said.  

The Lucas Administration Building was named in 1996 for Southern Miss President Emeritus Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas, who led the institution from 1975-1996 and again as interim president from 2001-2002 and from 2012-2013. The most recent major work on the building was done in 2006, when the copper cladding on its dome was replaced because of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Since President Bennett’s first day on campus, he has given attention to making our campus a more beautiful place by restoring our historic buildings, constructing new ones, and improving the landscaping of campus grounds,” said Lucas. “He continues these enhancements with a project that will address some serious structural issues with the Administration Building.”