Later this week, a nearly 1,200-ton, stone-and-concrete building should roll 800 feet across the campus of Goucher College in Towson.
It's the first of three 1950s-era dormitories Goucher is relocating to preserve and to make room for new residence halls.
Workers have spent recent weeks separating the buildings that now make up Froelicher Residence Hall — comprising Alcock, Gallagher and Tuttle houses — from their foundations and jacking them up to place wheels underneath them for the big move.
Moving the buildings rather than tearing them down reflects the college's commitment to sustainability, and it will save money too, said José Bowen, president of the private liberal arts college. Once relocated, the three-story buildings can be preserved and reused for general student housing, which is cheaper than building new dorms.
"Recycling is a plus, saving money is a plus and preservation is a plus," Bowen said. "Decades of alums have lived in these buildings, and given the choice, we'd always rather preserve history."
If it goes off as planned, the first move will occur one day later this week, officials said. The building — furniture and all —will be rolled to its new location at the rate of about 100 feet per hour. The other two will be moved in subseqent weeks.
The college will replace what's now the dormitories with two buildings in what officials have dubbed the "first-year student village."
These new buildings will house 266 students, cost about $23.5 million and are designed on "principles of behavioral science," Bowen said. They will be built to promote a social experience for freshmen, and outfitted with a dance studio, demonstration kitchen and modern student lounges. Ayers Saint Gross architects are designing the new residence halls, said chairman Jim Wheeler.
"You can't get to your room without seeing other people," Bowen said. "For freshmen, we specifically wanted buildings that are social in a way that upperclassmen students don't need."
Goucher administrators plan to have the new residence halls completed by the fall of 2018.
About 40 construction workers with Wolfe House & Building Movers and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. are on campus each day to chip away at the Froelicher relocation project. Last Wednesday, some of those workers milled below the 1,136-ton Alcock House, which had at that point been raised about six feet with hydraulic lifts in preparation for the move.
There will be a week between moving each of the three buildings, starting with Alcock House.
The process costs about $7.6 million, which is about a third of what it would cost to construct comparable new buildings, Bowen said. The project is "one of the largest and fastest building relocations to ever take place on a college campus," according to a Goucher news release.
University System of Maryland spokesman Mike Lurie said he is not aware of any schools in the system that have carried out a similar construction project. The university system comprises 12 of the state's public institutions.
"There have been some big buildings we've moved but I've never heard of multiple, really large buildings being moved this fast," said Mike Brovont, an estimator with Wolfe House & Building Movers.
The company has moved museums, libraries and hotels — including a 5-story, 1,750-ton hotel in Florida, the heaviest building to be relocated by the company. It also lifted and moved a more than 1,000-ton brick armory in India 400 feet over nine weeks.
Brovont said moving buildings on a college campus presents unique challenges. The company had to wait to begin the process until after Goucher students moved out in May and must be finished moving the three dorms by the time students return in August.
"For the size of the buildings, that's a pretty tight timeframe for us," Brovont said. Each of the three buildings are about 102 feet long, 37 feet wide and 35 feet tall.
With a project of this nature, there were some initial concerns about structural integrity and whether the buildings might crack, said Terence McCann, Goucher's facilities management director.
"We don't see any compromises to the existing structure and everything is going as it should," he said. "So far, so good."
Mark Beck, the university system's director of capital, said he is interested to see how the buildings fare after the move.
"We're watching it very carefully," Beck said. "If there's an opportunity to do this at USM schools and tap into lessons learned at Goucher, it seems like this would be a great way to go in the right circumstances."
Devin Millward, a rising senior at Goucher, said he's glad the buildings will be saved and recycled. Millward lived in Alcock House as a freshman and has happy memories of the "brotherhood" formed with his hallmates.
"I want to take my kids back one day and show them where I lived," Millward said. "That's what my mom did with me."