Looking Back: Problems with the construction of O’Dowd

As O’Dowd Hall was being built, there were a series of strikes from carpenters and electricians delaying the completion, which was set to be in June of 1980. As fall rolled around, Oakland University decided to keep it shut for the semester because of a glass window problem arising.

“We were ahead of schedule,” said George Karas, university engineer at the time. “If we didn’t have the strikes and the glass problem, we’d be in there.”

The problem with the glass was that about 60 windows were beginning to break. The building was an $8.5 million building, and each window was valued at about $1,000. OU decided to shift classes to other time slots and different buildings since O’Dowd Hall was not ready to be occupied.

“We have lost approximately 76 days due to a variety of worker strikes since the beginning of June,” Karas said.

The replacement was said to cost more than $500,000 and would take several months to do.

Due to potential safety hazards with the broken glass and the building, OU ended up putting up a fence to protect the area.

According to the architects for O’Dowd Hall, the problem with the windows was due to defects in the glass and not with the building design. The windows began to crumble to powder and tiny pieces of glass, and this delayed the opening of O’Dowd Hall until further notice.

Libby-Owens-Ford, the then glass company, ended up paying for a half-million dollar bill on replacing 494 exterior panels. While at the time, when replacement would begin or how long it would take was unsure. But according to James Oathout, an official at Libby-Owens-Ford, “it [was] a very high priority item.”

At the time the officials at TMP Associates, their contractors and the Libby-Owens-Ford glass manufacturers were refusing to say why the windows were breaking, what was causing it and how it could be fixed.

Libby-Owens-Ford said they were going to stand behind their products. Some of the broken windows were being replaced by panels, but those were also broken. A TMP official said the replacements may have been from the same production run.

The budget continued to shrink, so at that point it was possible O’Dowd Hall would not open until summer. Karas continued to say all the problems should be worked out by early next year, but still didn’t decide at the time if O’Dowd Hall would be occupied during the glass replacement.

The Michigan legislature passed a bill appropriating $164,700 for OU for O’Dowd Hall. This ran through Sept. 30, but only $124,000 could be used that fiscal year which ended Jun. 30.

Ray Harris, an OU budget Director at the time, said O’Dowd Hall would be ready mid-December 1980 to the end of January 1981, but did not think classes would be held there until summer or spring semesters.

The process was planned to take longer so the cost of overtime pay and other aspects would be minimized as much as possible.