The Unfortunate Fate Of The Sinclair Library
Sinclair Community College, whose sprawling campus takes up much of the Western portion of Downtown Dayton, began as a two roomed bookkeeping and mechanical drawing class located at the local YMCA in 1887. Many in the region have grown up with the legacy of Sinclair Community College and are well versed in its history and influence within the area, but few are aware of the bizarre feat of engineering that had to be undertaken shortly before the original seven buildings were set to be opened to students in September of 1972.
The board of regents signed on New York architect Edward Durell Stone and the Dayton architectural firm of Sullivan, Lecklider and Jay to make reality the vision of John Vernon Wormer, the dean of Sinclair at the time. Wormer envisioned a campus that would be an oasis of education in the midst of Downtown Dayton.
Since the campus would not be facilitating dorms, the architectural group decided it would be best to eschew some of the traditional areas found on most college campuses, most notably, a quad for students to gather. Since all of the students would be living off campus and many were natives of the Miami Valley region, it was concluded that the campus would be constructed with a more utilitarian layout, concentrating more with the ease of going back and forth between classes rather than superfluous areas for the students to congregate in.
Originally, the Learning Resource Center (LRC) Library was set directly in between the other original seven buildings, connecting them all together with awning covered sidewalks, which, viewed from above, gave the library the symbolic look of holding the whole campus together with outstretched arms. That was until, through a series of miscalculations and oversights, the library would become the focus of a year long excavation and engineering feat that would not only change its location dramatically, but would also make it an invisible orphan, buried under the shadows of the rest of the college grounds.
In early 1972, the bulk of the eight main structures were already built and were being fitted with HVAC equipment and state of the art communications and technological apparatus. Carpets were being laid, tiles set, fixtures mounted and paint applied. The library was the first structure to be fully completed, which was fitting for the building that was the to be the focal point of the campus. Through grants and donations, the library had a massive array of shelving units erected and shipments of books were arriving daily to be placed thereupon. This library, in the eyes of the regents and Dean Wormer, was to be the envy of all the colleges in the area and would become a repository of the written word far surpassing even the whole of the local county libraries collections. It was barely a month after the library was finished and stocked that a severe problem arose.
“At first, there was a portion of the Northeastern wall that showed signs of stress, cracking in portions.” said Dwayne Schnieder, superintendent of maintenance for Sinclair at the time. “You could tell something was shifting. The masonry around the window frames was pulling away towards the corners. From the inside, you could tell that the building shifted towards that corner of the building.”
Structural engineers were called in and consulted. After taking innumerable measurements and comparing them to the original blueprints, it was quickly determined that the building was sinking. Emergency meetings between the architects, county agencies, engineering consultants and the board of regents were called. The first rounds of meeting were rather heated with different groups laying blame for the structural defect on the other. The core questions, however were, ‘What caused the problem in the first place?’, ‘How bad would it get?’ and ‘What could be done to fix it?’
The answer to the first question came rather quickly and stunned everyone involved. A mathematician, Leonard Hofstadter, who was hired on to aid the structural engineering consultants, found that, after poring through all of the preliminary plans and blueprints, that no one had adjusted the soil compaction and amount and depth of the footers to compensate for the weight of the books. By Hofstadter’s calculations, he determined that, within the year, the building as a whole, would sink a full forty-three inches on the Northeastern corner of the building and thirty-eight inches on the Southwestern corner, giving the building a -7° tilt. Over a three year projection, factoring in average rainfall and such, it was established that the building would sink yet another fifty-two inches on the Northeastern side and forty-nine inches on the Southwestern side giving the building an almost 15° list. Along with this, the building would also shear laterally at least one and a half feet towards the Northeastern corner. Taking all this into account and by using algorithms to determine the load stresses of the building, it became apparent that the flooring would crack and separate, creating schisms several inches wide at some points, and that the walls and roof would suffer similar fates as well.
Jones Excavation of Indiana was tapped to head up the project, which was to turn out to be a monumental task indeed. It was agreed upon that the best, and most cost effective option, would be to excavate under the building, tamp the ground to a higher compaction rate, pour new footers and moorings and, as the final step, the building, as a whole, would be lowered into the ground onto its new foundation. Above and beyond the logistical nightmares that this project would entail, there were many municipality laws that would have to be bent or outright ignored to meet these ends.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, project manger Lisa Froprol said, “So many laws and safety regulations were flouted in order for the project to be seen to its completion. Not only was the act of excavating under the building in the manner in which it was done a hazard in of itself, everything was kept in place inside the building to give the illusion that nothing was wrong.”
After a Herculean effort, the plan was completed in late August, after a marathon construction process that defies belief. Beginning on a Saturday night, the building was lowered and moored into its newly dug vault and large concrete pavers were placed on top of the roof, with glass bricks aligned with the original skylights. Visitors gave blanks stares when they looked about and wondered aloud as to the location of the library that they clearly remembered being in the center of the complex. They were told that the library was part of an underground labyrinth of hallways and tunnels that connected the buildings together, as the blueprints had called for all along. Visitors were left scratching their heads and questioning their sanity up until the time of the school’s grand ribbon cutting ceremony, whereupon, the commotion and congratulations overshadowed any seemingly disparate recollections of the hidden library.