Home » Features » Restoring a National Icon

Restoring a National Icon

By Jamie Ives


In 1937, the high school in Ogden, Utah, was the country’s first million dollar high school west of the Mississippi. Employees of Hughes Construction meticulously restored the school’s Art Deco auditorium to its former glory, winning a 2013 Alliant Build America Award for their efforts.

Ogden High School was constructed during the Great Depression as part of the Works Project Administration launched by President Roosevelt. When completed in 1937, the new school was the country’s first million dollar high school west of the Mississippi. Experts regarded the institution’s 1,900-seat auditorium as one of the best examples of Art-Deco Architecture in America. Seventy years later, however, the school needed massive repairs, seismic upgrades, and restoration to preserve its iconic nature and create an ideal venue for the performing arts. It also needed to be prepared for the 21st century.

Hughes Construction of Salt Lake City, Utah, an AGC of Utah member, accepted the challenge of restoring the school’s auditorium to its former glory. “The goal of this project was to have alumni enter the auditorium and declare ‘It is exactly as I remember,’ ” says Dan Pratt, Hughes’ vice president. For this achievement, the company received a 2013 Alliant Build America Award for Buildings Under $10M Renovation.

This ambitious project included preservation of the auditorium’s original design, seismic upgrades with 68 micro-piles, asbestos abatement, and basic building systems improvement such as plumbing and electricity. After the structure was reinforced, specialized craftsmen rehabilitated the plaster, woodwork, and gold leafing. The auditorium was completed several months ahead of schedule, and under its $9 million budget in August of 2011.

Due to the possibility of water damage to historic finishes on the auditorium walls with conventional seismic reinforcing, Hughes selected a dry-core drilling process called Center Coring.

Vertical reinforced cores were drilled from the parapet to the existing foundation, 60 feet down, within ¼” tolerances to ensure that the drill did not exit the surface of the brick on either side of the wall.

These cores were then filled with a #8-dywidag bar. A proprietary sand and epoxy resin mix was added to bind the brittle masonry wall together and provide ductility. The grout was such a low viscosity that it could flow into the tiny cracks and voids throughout the masonry wall, creating a spider web of reinforcement that extended well beyond the actual core holes themselves. Not one brick was damaged throughout this process.


Award winning work – the newly restored 1,900-seat high school auditorium in Ogden Utah is one of the best examples of Art-Deco Architecture in America. For its hard work, Hughes Construction received a 2013 Alliant Build America Award.

The needed roof replacement seemed to make it impossible to save the auditorium’s ornate plaster ceiling. How could the ceiling be held in place while the entire support structure above it was replaced? Exposure to weather and water damage were additional problems. Fortunately, Hughes devised an ingenious way to solve this dilemma.

“We put in place new catwalks designed to carry the dead load of the existing ceiling,” says Pratt. “Once installed, all support wires for the ceilings were transferred to the catwalk beams. Next, we developed a 32-hour-nonstop schedule that relied on a temporary roof membrane that covered slightly more than one fourth of the roof.”

When weather conditions were favorable, crews rolled back the temporary roof, removed the existing roofing, cut away the old deck, and removed the joist. Next, a fresh crew installed the new joist and deck, and then the roofers went to work on one quarter of the roof.

“This system worked so well,” says Pratt, “that we were able to replace the entire structure and re-roof without damaging the irreplaceable plaster decoration.”

While the original design document mapped out what the existing colors were thought to be, the painting team found that there were in reality subtle shades of those colors. The painting team added to this discovery by developing a technique that brightened the auditorium’s existing colors to their original luster.

Crews also found that due to the depression era budget, areas thought to have had gold leafing had been instead leafed with Dutch metal, a cheaper process that corroded over time. Hughes made a request for a $25,000 donation to upgrade to real gold leaf. The money was raised almost overnight, and the effect of the real leafing was spectacular. By the end, skilled artisans had recreated a total of 68 original colors.

On the site, Hughes worked closely with a broad range of designers, artisans, alumni, and school officials. Each entity had an invaluable connection and needed to be managed accordingly.
Over 1,000 students were in attendance on a daily basis. By cultivating this team effort with the school, there was little disruption to student learning.

“Backing for the restoration was obtained through the grassroots fundraising efforts of locals who have come to love this facility and all that it represents,” says Pratt. “It really is a community triumph. Without the support of the people of Ogden, this restoration would have never taken place.”

Project Team:
Owner: Ogden City School District
Construction Manager: Hughes General Contractors, Inc.
Architect: Edwards & Daniels Architects, Inc.
Secondary Architectural Firm: CRSA Architects
Principal Engineers:
Structural: Reaveley Engineers + Associates
Mechanical and Plumbing: Colvin Engineering Associates, Inc.
Electrical/Acoustical: Spectrum Engineering
Civil: Great Basin Engineering, Inc.

One comment

  1. with the increasing number of two-income families and the. In
    the quote also ask then too specify the time it will take to complete the job.
    You will want tto see if there are bubbles in the paint or cracked and peeling spots.