Anyone on campus during the last decade knows that Library Mall seems like it’s been under construction more often than not. How many times, exactly, has it been torn up?
The answer is just once — but for a long time. David Null of University Archives says that the mall “was torn up the last time [President Barack] Obama was here [in September 2010],” and it was under construction during the most recent presidential campus visit in September 2012. “It’s just been torn up constantly.” Students who arrived as freshmen in 2008 and graduated in 2012 never saw the mall when it wasn’t sporting some kind of construction equipment.
The main culprit is the utility tunnels beneath the mall, which are some of the oldest on campus and had outlived their useful life. The effort to rebuild the underground systems that provide steam heat, chilled water for cooling, telecommunications and electrical power began on Library Mall in August 2008. As the work continued into 2012, workers began to use the north portion of the mall as a staging area for the Memorial Union Reinvestment project and for a major renovation of the Wisconsin Historical Society vaults, a project that entails rebuilding the retaining walls and balustrade surrounding the building.
The good news is that the new, rebuilt utility tunnels are now large enough that any future maintenance work can be carried on underground, precluding the need to tear up the mall for utility work again.
But that doesn’t mean that the popular lunch spot and Frisbee field can bid farewell to drilling, dump trucks, and clouds of dust. While the university owns the section of the mall surrounding the Hagenah Fountain, the city of Madison owns the strip — now frequented by food carts — where State Street used to continue on to Park Street. The city turned the area into a continuation of Library Mall and built a concrete stage in 1975, and it has only undergone minor sidewalk repairs since then. But get ready — the 66-foot-wide corridor is due for a complete reconstruction in 2014 — and the university portion of the mall could see complementary changes if funding is secured.