No Detail Too Small: Historic Preservation at the University of South Dakota

(Sponsored content by Fiegen Construction)

When it’s done well, historic preservation on college campuses is a perfect balance between where a university has been and where it’s going. Historic buildings are keepers of culture. They bring alumni back and future students coming in. That’s the challenge of historic preservation, then. Combining what’s classic and what’s modern and making it all work together.

In 2019, our team at Fiegen Construction was tasked with polishing a University of South Dakota campus gem, the Inman House. This project was a unique undertaking for our design-build team, and it taught us no detail is too small or too dirty for proper historic preservation.

Existing Interior
Existing Kitchen

Quick history: The Inman House was built in 1874 on the bluffs above the Vermillion River.  It was first owned by Darwin Inman, a Dakota territory banker and, later, a state sentator. The Inman House was donated to USD in 1940 and has been a distinguished landmark ever since. It has housed presidents and been an office for the South Dakota Alumni House. But as the needs for the building changed, the house could not adapt to them.

Restoring the Inman House was Fiegen Construction’s task. Our job: renovate and innovate the interior while keeping the 145-year-old charm the university loved. The Inman House had to be serviceable enough for presidents’ families to live in and grand enough to impress guests.

Our first step was examining the existing finishes. With help from the State Historic Preservation Office, we did our homework. We peeled decades of paint and wallpaper. We tested paint chips. We researched period design styles like lighting, wood stains and authentic engraving.

Before, the Inman House was an alumni office of small, broken-up spaces. One woman’s office was an upstairs bedroom. You can imagine this was a nightmare for entertaining, so we demolished the walls to open things up.

Inman House

Then we built a 3,240-square-foot addition, almost doubling the original layout. We added on a commercial kitchen and an ADA-compliant bathroom onto the main floor. A master suite, bonus entertainment room and a three-stall garage added more room. With new floors and a new deck, the place looked refreshed.

Inman House

 Some of the work, though, wasn’t meant to be seen at all. Less obvious were the mechanical systems we installed. A forced-air system replaced a 50-year-old boiler, and new hardwiring and IT equipment brought the relic into the 21st century.

Inman House
Inman House
Inman House

The final product was a modern house that looked almost unchanged from a sidewalk admirer. It had more room, more technological capabilities, more everything. And most importantly, we preserved all the touches that create its timeless character. I’m proud to say we gave the Inman House new legs, and in the process, saved a campus gem from tarnishing with age.

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