Doane University – Boswell Observatory Restoration

Scope of Work

Full architectural services

Berggren Architects restored Doane University’s historic Boswell University

Location

Crete, NE

History

Boswell Observatory, circa 1883

Designed by Goodwin Sweezey, David Brainerd Perry, and Thomas Doane

Completion

Project was completed in 1995

The Challenge

The Boswell Observatory restoration remains one of our most significant and unique projects to date. The building’s impressive technical capabilities-one of the best in the region, at the time-came with complex architectural features. Atop the building is a wood-lattice dome, covered with sheet metal, capable of rotating 360 degrees atop a steel rail. The dome wall included a sliding door capable of opening a full-quarter quadrant, allowing horizon-to-horizon viewing. Though circular at the base of the dome, the brick walls of the room corbeled down onto an octagonal floor plan. Brick piers supported the telescope, a clock, and a meridian transit, all structured seperately so that any movement in the building would not affect the sensitive instruments.

As the building was over a century old, much of the wood members had deteriorated, including those in the dome. As is often the case, no existing drawings of the building could be found.

The openable and full-revolving dome presented significant challenges for restoration.

Notes:

Built in 1883, the observatory housed the largest telescopes west of the Mississippi River. The region had barely moved past the “frontier” stages of westward expansion. The principal designer of the observatory, Professor Goodwin Swezey, had visited campus observatories across the country in preparation for his design. Most other Swezey-designed ovbservatories (and their equipment) in the region have been allowed to deteriorate. Today, Boswell is the only known extant 19th-century observatory in this region of the Great Plains that still holds much of its original architectural integrity. It is also the oldest extant building on Doane’s campus.

The building is constructed of red brick walls atop rough-cut ashlar limestone foundation. A smooth-cut limestone watertable sits in between.

An addition was completed in 1892 to accommodate a classroom, more instruments, and the Nebraska weather bureau office. It served as the first headquarters of the Nebraska Weather Service.

The Strategy

The dome would be addressed first. Sensitive restoration of the dome was necessary to ensure the safety of the architecture, instruments, and people below. Restoring other parts of the building roof was also a priority. Beyond these crucial repairs, cost-effective alternative options were presented to the client alongside ideal treatment. Depending on the intended use of the space, either a museum or an office, restoring historic details may or may not have been appropriate.

In completing this project, our team collaborated with a team of fifth-year architecture students from Kansas State University’s Preservation Documentation class, led by Professor Eugene Wendt.

The plan drawings, to the left, were prepared by the fifth-year KSU students in Eugene Wendt’s Preservation Documentation class.

Notes:

Arrangements were made for the four students and professor to work on-site for a week. During this time, they would complete extensive field documentation and measurement. Dimensions were captured for everything from the dome to doorknobs to driveways. Once measurements were completed, the students spent the remaining semester drafting a complete set of drawings.

The drawings were completed according to the standards of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). HABS was a depression-era program created to provide work for out-of-work architects. It has since evolved to projects for students. In both cases, the original drawings are placed in the National Archives, in Washington D.C., and are available to the public.

The collaboration was though up by principal architect Jerry Berggren, an alumnus of KSU.

The Results

The observatory restoration project was completed in 1995. It was immediately opened to the public with a successful ribbon cutting ceremony. The time-keeping ball, now inside on its mount, was one of less than eight time balls dropped at midnight of New Year’s Eve, 1999. The telescope remains operational to this day and is regularly used for sky-viewing, including to view the lunar eclipse of May 2022.

Janet Jeffries, our architectural historian and faculty member of Doane University, is responsible for managing public events and tours at the observatory.

A Pennock 8-inch equatorial refractor telescope sits within the scope room. The wood lattice dome structure and sheet metal cover were faithfully restored.

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Our Process

We listen to you

We are preservation architects, let’s get together and talk about your project. Once we know your ideas, we can start your project in the right directions.

We involve you in the planning

Planning projects is what we do. We’ll work with you to develop the best way to implement your ideas. Our written documents are the road map which is essential to ensuring your expectations.

We make it happen

When you’re ready to implement your ideas, we’ll gather together the craftsmen and women necessary and bring your ideas to life. Architecture is in the details. We will follow your project through completion ensuring all the details meet your expectations.

What We Offer

Restoration

We offer restoration and preservation of your historic structures. Using extraordinary materials and craftsmanship, our historic structures are a lasting tribute to the people for whom they were built.

Consulting

We offer consulting services to both general clients and professional clients in sharing our knowledge and expertise in the area of historic preservation. Our master planning and preservation planning prepares our clients to be better able to plan for the life of their historic structures and districts.

New Construction

We know the meaning of sustainability because of our in-depth work with structures which have stood the test of time. We offer sustainable and green new construction which is historically sympathetic, including in the form of additions.

Our Team

Principal, Preservation Architect

Jerry L. Berggren, AIA

Production Manager

Garry Martin

Contract Consultant

Farheen Sirajuddin

Architectural Historian

Janet Jeffries

Architectural Student Intern

Alexi Caines

Media Production Manager

Kameron Dadgostar

Staff Architect

Leroy Svatora, AIA

Media Production Intern

Grace Shepherd

Architectual Student Intern

Sharon Guchu

Operations Manager

Jess Larsen

Architectural Production Staff

Brennan Deboer

Principal, Preservation Architect

Jerry L. Berggren, AIA

In 1977, Jerry Berggren founded what would become Berggren Architects, P.C. The firm began as a sole proprietorship in Lincoln, Nebraska and has since then been dedicated to the preservation of Nebraska’s finest architecture. The 1983 Jobs Bill was the milestone which introduced the firm to its most significant building type, the historic county courthouse. A project to improve the thermal efficiency of the windows at the Johnson County Courthouse in Tecumseh also initiated Berggren’s concern for energy conservation and an ongoing commitment to sustainable design.

Today, Jerry Berggren has expanded his firm. He continues to employ professionals and interns focused on historic preservation and extending the life of our built environment. One growing sector of Berggren Architects, P.C. is our consulting service. As preservation consultants, we share our expertise in historic buildings with other architectural firms. After more than 30 years of assessing the historic structures in the care of local and regional museums, Jerry has developed yet another passion: the design and assessment of museums’ collections storage. At many museums, collections storage is too often an afterthought. When the budget has been spent, a museum’s most treasured possessions are commonly left in the least desirable facility. Jerry is sharing his experience with collections storage design and maintenance, as architect or consultant, with museums throughout the Midwest. The future will undoubtedly hold more unexpected opportunities and challenges. He looks forward to each of those, and you are invited to contact him directly regarding the architectural challenges you face.

Production Manager

Garry Martin

Garry has been working in the architectural field continuously since obtaining a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1991. He had previously worked with Jerry Berggren as an intern in 1989 and the experience piqued his interest in the field of preservation. Garry leads the production team at Berggren Architects, P.C.

Contract Consultant

Farheen Sirajuddin

Farheen, a citizen of India, began her career with formal education in that country achieving the status of architect. When her husband was transferred to the U.S., she seized the opportunity to study at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln graduating in 2019 with her Master of Architecture. She immediately became one of our full time employees continuing to work until her student visa expired in July of 2020. Having to return to India, we thought we had lost a valued employee. Thanks to COVID, we have had to learn to work remotely. Farheen, now living in Canada, has once again joined us. This time as a contract consultant and we are very grateful to have her back.

Architectural Historian

Janet Jeffries

Janet has a career history as an educator, writer, and researcher in the field of historical and architectural preservation. She currently works as the University Historian for Doane University in Crete, NE and is the Curator for the Crete Heritage Society. Janet is currently employed as the firm’s Architectural/Preservation Historian.

Architectural Student Intern

Alexi Caines

Alexi joined Berggren Architects in 2021. In her first year as a Larsen Legacy intern, her responsibilities began with coordinating office operations and research. Her current responsibilities include marketing and preparation of construction documents and design.

Media Production Manager

Kameron Dadgostar

Kameron joined Berggren Architects in September of 2022 as a Media Production Intern. Responsibilities include creating digital videos for the company, filming footage on site of current projects, website development as well as creating and updating existing content and project information.

Staff Architect

Leroy Svatora, AIA

Leroy has been continuously involved in the practice of Architecture since receiving his Master’s Degree in Architecture from University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1977. He began working part-time in an architectural office prior to graduation and worked briefly with Jerry in the 1980’s. After leaving Jerry’s office, he became licensed in the State of Nebraska, and worked for other firms in Lincoln on a variety of project types and scales. Since then, he has returned to assist Berggren Architects once more.

Media Production Intern

Grace Shepherd

Grace joined the Berggren Architects team in June of 2023 as a Media Production Intern part of the McCown Media Internship Program. Grace is a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying Emerging Media Arts. She is carrying on the McCown Media Internship Program by filming, editing, and publishing digital content for Berggren Architects and aiding in website development.

Architectual Student Intern

Sharon Guchu

in 2023, Sharon joined Berggren Architects. Her responsibilities as a Larsen Legacy Intern include managing QuickBooks, setting up and maintaining office supplies, and acts as the front-facing representative of our company to the public.

Operations Manager

Jess Larsen

Jess rejoined Berggren Architects as Operations Manager in 2023. Jess originally began her tenure at Berggren in 2016 as an intern while working on her undergraduate degree in Architecture from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2019, after Graduating with Distinction, from the College of Architecture with a Bachelor of Science in Design, and a Minor in Art History and Criticism, she moved to New York City to work as an operations associate for an art consulting firm. Jess has worked with major real estate developers, interior designers, and international artists for her award-winning projects. She is back with Berggren part-time to manage company operations, and to ensure Berggren Architects runs smoothly.

Architectural Production Staff

Brennan Deboer

Brennan’s background in building is rooted in craftsmanship. After graduating from the University of Montana in 2014, Brennan’s professional experience has been split between the arts and construction, working primarily as an audio engineer and a finish carpenter. In 2020, Brennan combined his passions for music and fine woodworking and began working for Bedient Pipe Organ Co. building and refurbishing pipe organs. Working with antique instruments led him to a wider interest in historic building practices and preservation. A desire to formally pursue historic preservation work has now brought him to the Architectural Production Staff at Berggren Architects.

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