Campus takes steps to fix Phelps Hall stairs


Nicole Girgen

The west entrance of Phelps Hall has been blocked off pending reconstruction after it was discovered that the foundation had worn away. With no set date for completion, and a cost of $250,000, facilities coordinator Steve Ronkowski hopes that construction will be started by January or February of 2019.

Rachel Hollcraft, News Reporter

The west entrance stairs of Phelps Hall have been blocked off this semester. With the main stairs out of use, students and faculty who have classes and offices in Phelps must use the east entrance of the building.

After initial cracks were noticed in the stone steps in May of this year, Winona State University maintenance sent a work order to facilities to have the stairs repaired. Further investigation revealed that the stairs lack a solid foundation.

Phelps Hall was the first building at Winona State, with construction completed in 1916. Because of the time in which it was built, the foundation of the stairs is different than what is used in construction today.

Facilities coordinator Steve Ronkowski, is the project manager. Ronkowski explained that the stairs had to be closed off because they present a safety issue.

“The entire foundation is deteriorated, so it’s not really holding the stairs up, so it’s unsafe and that’s why we had them shut down,” Ronkowski said.

The entire deteriorated foundation beneath the stairs must be removed and replaced with poured concrete before any work on the stairs can be done.

As of now, there is no set timeline to when the stairs will be completed. The stairs are in the design phase, which should be completed within four weeks.

Facilities has hired Owen Warneke and Associates Architects to design the new stairs.

The head architect on the project, Jacob Nicklay, described why the foundation needs to be replaced.

“The foundation is built out of masonry. The grout that is between the brick masonry is degrading and falling apart and turning to powder, so that’s lessening the support for the stairs themselves,” Nicklay said.

Although the foundation of the stairs has disintegrated, Nicklay does not believe there is cause to worry about the foundation of the Phelps building because different types of masonry was used for the stairs and the building.

“There is no evidence that the building is having any structural problems that I have been made aware of. The masonry used for the stairs is of lower grade because it was part of an exterior improvement,” Nicklay said.

After the design has been finished, facilities can go out to bid for construction.

Ronkowski hopes begin the process of finding a construction company on Dec. 31, at which point facilities will know the definite cost of the project.

“The approximate cost we believe to do this would be around $250,000,” Ronkowski said.

In addition to the cost of removing and replacing the foundation and steps, planners will also take into consideration the cold weather that will come with winter construction.

“One of the things that enters into play is the weather. The area that’s under construction will have to be tented and heated, and that usually drives the cost up a little bit,” Ronkowski said.

After bids are placed, contract documents will be processed and then construction can begin.

Nicklay hopes construction will at least be started by January or February of next year.

Until the stairs are taken out and replaced, students and faculty will continue to use the east entrance.