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May 2, 2013

Aged Rhodes Tower faces long road to renovation

By Christina Sanders

Two weeks ago, Rhodes Tower was forced to close after a water pipe burst in the building and caused the elevators to the 373 foot, 21-story building to flood. For two weekdays (Thursday and Friday) and the weekend the building, including the library was closed to faculty and students of Cleveland State University.

Several professors were forced to cancel their usually scheduled classes because they were unable to reach their offices to obtain the materials that they needed to conduct their classes.

Michael Schwartz Library, which is housed in Rhodes Tower, was unavailable to students for four days causing them to find new places to complete their assignments for class.

Bernard McClellan a second year law student was displaced due to the closure. The closure couldn’t have a come at a more inconvenient time for McClellan. Cleveland-Marshall laws’ final exam week was scheduled two weeks before, during the time of the closure.

McClellan usually uses the Michael Schwartz Library to study every night. As a law student, he finds the main campus library to be peaceful because he doesn’t know the majority of the students who frequently patronize the library.

“I usually use the library to study every night, because I’m not very productive at home. When it closed, I was forced to study at home and not be as productive as I would have liked,” said McClellan.

This isn’t the first time that Rhodes Tower has closed. In fact, dating back to the 1998-1999 school year, the iconic building has been closed at least once a year for the last 14 years except one year.

Built in 1971, for a price of $20 million, Rhodes Tower is the second tallest building in the US that is used exclusively for educational purposes. It is second only to the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning in height.

The structure houses all of Cleveland State’s chilled water supply. Of the twenty-one floors in the building twenty are functional and the twenty-first and basement houses and circulates all of the chilled water for the campus.

“Rhodes Tower houses all of the chilled water supply for the campus,” said Shahedeh Ab the Director of Plant Services, “it cycles water to everyone from there, from Urban Studies to the Education building, to the dorms in Euclid Commons, it is the utility hub of the campus.”

Due to the age of the building, pipes often burst in the structure causing water to move around the asbestos in the building and possibly make it air born.

The building was built using a Brutalist architectural style. Brutalist architecture typically employs a minimalist look when it comes to aesthetic design. Although, some would argue that it is aesthetically pleasing, for the most part it geared more towards functionality than curb appeal.

The linear design and block build, causes the buildings to resemble modern day fortresses. The primarily concrete build, is cost effective.

The style, which was extremely popular for about 20 years last century, was realized with the use of materials that were later found to be harmful to humans, such as asbestos.

Essentially Rhodes Tower is a giant fortress of asbestos.  As is, the building is fine. The asbestos is not “active” at all.

However, when a pipe bursts or something gets wet, it causes the asbestos to move. When it dries, it becomes airborne and dangerous.

If inhaled, it can cause lung-related diseases.

“Asbestos is a cotton-grayish substance,” said Abdelkarim, “when it gets wet it starts to move and when it dries it can become a problem. The building closes because we have to go in and clean up all the asbestos to make it functional again.”

The closing that happened last week was because a pipe burst on the 17th floor. The 16th floor was saturated with water and as were the elevators.

“For the first time, the elevators were flooded,” said Abdelkarim, “ we had to walk up floor by floor in order to clean them out.”

Every time the building closes, the question about the future of the building surfaces.

The solution to the problem is a difficult one.

To tear down the building, would unleash a ton of asbestos into the atmosphere of the campus and downtown. It wouldn’t be safe.

There’s also the issue of replacing the chilled water plant, if Rhodes Tower were to be demolished.

“To start a new plant you need $20 million,” said Abdelkarim.

Rhodes Tower is an integral part of the Cleveland skyline. To destroy the building would be to remove a piece of history.

“Rhodes Tower is an iconic building”

However, to renovate the building is a very costly project.

“It costs about 2 or 3 million to renovate a floor. The 10 and 12th floors were renovated completely and all the asbestos was taken out but to do the entire building is a lot of money,” said Abdelkarim.

For now, the plan is just to renovate the building floor by floor as the funds become available.