Glad to be back

Jeremy Fugleberg

Jeremy Fugleberg

Byron Garry is glad Solberg Hall finally echoes with the sounds of schooling instead of the groans of a tired building.

Garry, a professor in the engineering technology department, was a student at SDSU in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He said he remembers the building being decrepit as he walked its turn-of-the-century halls.

“The floors would creak and bounce as you walked across them,” he said.

The historic building, built in 1901 just south of the Administration building, was under repair until this summer.

Solberg Hall was built under the leadership of John W. Heston, school president from 1896 to 1903. It was called the Physics and Engineering Building, and housed those departments.

It was in the Physics and Engineering Building that Stephen F. Briggs, of Briggs & Stratton small engine fame, created the one-cylinder engine that became the prototype for almost every lawn mower engine in the country.

In 1966, the building was renamed Solberg Hall to honor Halvor C. Solberg, who started the mechanical engineering program at SDSU.

Solberg Hall served many students throughout the years and was home to the nursing department from 1957 to 1969.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s the creaky building was showing its age. The upper floors were deemed unsafe and were finally condemned in 1989.

The first floor still housed the visual arts department and the Ritz Gallery, which featured professor and student work.

Norman Gambill, visual arts department head and director of the Ritz Gallery, recalls being tucked into the building before the remainder was condemned.

“It had metal posts all around to support the ceiling which made it difficult to lay out the studios,” he said. “It was a very difficult situation.”

A forest of metal posts wasn’t the only downside to learning in Solberg Hall.

“There were asbestos-wrapped heating ducts and pipes,” he said. “It had a lot of problems.”

Gambill said the winter of 1998 brought heavy loads of snow and a conclusion by the state engineer: Solberg Hall was not safe.

“It was condemned when he determined the upper floor would not sustain a heavy load,” he said.

He said the engineer thought the roof could collapse under the strain and crush the floors underneath; including the first floor that Gambill, his professors and students were on every day.

SDSU President Peggy Gordon Miller ordered the department and the gallery to move immediately.

“We dropped everything in the middle of the semester and had an emergency evacuation,” he said. “It was a tough thing.”

The visual arts department and the Ritz Gallery moved into Grove Hall, where they are are currently housed.

While the annex to the east of Solberg Hall continued to see use, the main building sat empty and in limbo between getting torn down and being refurbished.

Finally the decision was made to bring the building back to life. The SDSU Foundation secured the needed $3.9 million from private sources and construction began in the spring of 2002.

Work continued steadily until this summer, when the building became the new home fpr the engineering technology and management department.

Garry said his department is glad to finally have a home.

“We’re glad to be able to move from about five different places across campus to one location,” he said. “It’s a brand new building even though the outside looks historic.”

#1.886843:1224765622.jpg:solberg.jpg:From 1901 to 2003 Solberg Hall has remained a permanent fixture of the SDSU campus. The Electronic Engineering and Technology department recently moved back into the building after a $3.9 million project to renovate the building.: