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Renovations to main building: Bonn University students moving to site opposite the Old Cemetery

Renovations to main building : Bonn University students moving to site opposite the Old Cemetery

Around 10,000 students and 1,000 employees have to move to make way for the renovation of the main building at the University of Bonn. And now it is clear where they will move to next year.

The cat is out of the bag: Next year, the approximately 10,000 students and their lecturers and professors from the humanities faculties in the main university building will move to the former Zurich Insurance building on Rabinstraße. And one year later, the entire administration of Bonn University, including the print shop and the post room, is to move into the headquarters of the former Herold insurance company on the corner of Poppelsdorfer Allee/Bonner Talweg. The lease for both properties has now been signed by the Almer Mater and the owner, the real estate company Corpus Sireo.

The lease agreement, which had previously been kept under lock and key, is now official, coming just days after GA reported on the planned extensive renovations and associated year-long closure of the former baroque Electoral Palace between Alter Zoll and the street Am Neutor, where the university has resided for over 200 years. According to spokesperson Andreas Archut, the university needs around 30,000 square metres of space for the move. The striking Zurich building opposite the Old Cemetery provides around 22,000 square meters, and the neoclassical building in the Südstadt, which was erected at the end of the 1940s, provides around 9,000 square metres.

Corpus Sireo, a company belonging to Swiss Life Asset Managers in Germany, is developing a mixed-use quarters on the site in the Südstadt with a total area of 24,500 square metres between Poppelsdorfer Allee, Bonner Talweg, Heinrich-von-Kleist-Straße and Prinz-Albrecht-Straße. As reported, in addition to commercial space, up to 280 new residential units are to be built on the site, 20 per cent of which will receive social funding. The company acquired the property, including the Bristol Hotel, which is due to be demolished, as well as the office building on Rabinstrasse from Zurich five years ago.

According to university spokesperson Archut, the lease will begin in May 2022. The contract runs until 2037. “With the express possibility of extending,” says Archut. The building will primarily house the offices for the academic staff of the faculties concerned, as well as library space and seminar and meeting rooms. The property includes an underground garage in the basement.

The office building at Rabinstraße 8 was built in the 1990s using plans by Krenz, Meier + Assoziierte (Planungsgruppe Bonn) as a training and office building for the insurance company Deutscher Herold (later Zurich-Versicherung). The lease for Poppelsdorfer Alle runs until 2038 - also with an option to extend. The university has not provided any information about the rent. Current figures from the university show that it raises over 70 million a year for rent, most of which goes to Bau- und Liegenschaftsbetrieb NRW (BLB), who owns or leases the approximately 350 university buildings in the city and the region and is responsible for their upkeep, maintenance and renovation.

Fire safety is a problem in the main building

Anyone wandering through the listed main building with their eyes open will notice sore spots all around. Much of the building still holds the charm of past decades. And even though tradesmen have often been at work here over the past few years, especially on fire safety measures, fire protection is still one of the biggest challenges of the renovations. The programme also includes the renovation of the palace’s main façades, which are crumbling in many places. The problems are particularly visible in the attic storey of the main building, which only a few people are allowed to enter due to poor fire protection, Archut says.

To provide a quick emergency escape route, reflective arrows have been placed on the floor to show the way out in case of heavy smoke. “We suspect that the whole attic storey will have to be demolished and rebuilt,” says Archut, going across a steel walkway just below the roof truss - located 14 metres above the auditorium. The main building will be completely renovated according to modern technical and energy specifications.

The building also includes an extension from the post-war period, which housed the Etscheid fashion house on the ground floor and mezzanine level. In ‘university vernacular’, the courtyard with access to the university post room is therefore referred to as the ‘Etscheidhof’. Owner Annette Philips took over the business from her mother more than 40 years ago and ran it until its closure at the end of 2020; the company history itself amounts to a proud 166 years. A look at the former business premises, which have already been partly gutted, shows that there is a lot of work to do here too. Mould has even spread in some places. Archut says it is not yet clear how the university will use this building.

Building on Rabinstraße enables communication

Accommodating the humanities faculties together at Rabinstraße 8 was an important matter for the university, emphasises Rector Professor Michael Hoch, “The further strengthening of our faculties is one of the central strategic goals of the University of Excellence Bonn.” The building in Rabinstraße is not only well suited for the dean's offices and departments, but also enables even more intensive communication across faculty and discipline boundaries.

The head of the university’s administration, Chancellor Holger Gottschalk, is also pleased about the new rental properties. “This way we are killing two birds with one stone,” he says. “By vacating the main building at an early stage, we are preparing the way for prompt renovation by Bau- und Liegenschaftsbetrieb NRW. At the same time, we are providing the departments concerned with excellently suited premises for research, teaching and administration in a central and convenient location.”

(Original text: Lisa Inhoffen, Translation: Caroline Kusch)