Moving Gehry house was no simple task

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A new addition to the Gainey center is the Winton House, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry in 1982. The home was donated to St. Thomas in 2007 and was placed at Gainey in May due to lack of space on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses.

No one knew up front how difficult the relocation project would be. But when plans for the move were finalized, the Rev. Dennis Dease, the university president, felt enthusiasm melt into doubt.

“I wondered what people were thinking,” Dease said, “or drinking.”

The move and reconstruction of the structure involved as much professional skill as its original construction in 1987. Sam Woods, president of the Owatonna contracting firm Casey & Groesbeck, said his carpenters had to disassemble sections of the house before rebuilding it. Most difficult was the 35-foot cone that forms the house’s entry.

Jet Tourtillott, the lead carpenter on the project, said every day on the job was an adventure. When it came time to waterproof a roof valley between the cone and another room, Tourtillott had to send one of his carpenters out a window upside down in a safety harness. To repair siding in the kitchen, Tourtillot’s crew had to carefully gut the room to get at it from the inside.

“What Sam likes to do is to take the hard jobs,” Tourtillott said of his boss, who has an MBA from St. Thomas.

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Originally published: 10/05/2011, Finance and Commerce