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UA hands out pieces of the union to dignitaries


Joshua D. Trujillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Sliding down the handrail in the Memorial Student Union, undeclared freshman Zander Brown zips past the other students on the stairway. The university plans to make plaques for dignitaries, retiring faculty and staff out of the student union's 43-year-old manzona-wood handrails.

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 1, 1999

The Memorial Student Union handrails have been touched by virtually every UA student since they were installed in 1956.

While piles of rubble and concrete will disappear with the existence of the decades-old building, the handrails will live on.

Joe "Mad Dog" Maurer, senior staff technician for University of Arizona Facilities Management, sparked the idea of cutting the handrails into separate pieces to honor alumni while talking to Lionel Jacobs, a colleague who helped build the handrails and retired last school year.

Al Tarcola, director of UA Facilities Management, said the handrails represent Jacobs' enthusiasm and quality of work.

"The work and craftsmanship that went into the handrail was much like Lionel Jacobs," Tarcola said.

Because the handrails were specifically designed to meet the needs the student union building, they have to be taken down as the building is remodeled.

To honor Jacobs' career with the UA, the rails will not be destroyed with the rest of the union.

Maurer said the handrails have served as a helping hand for almost everyone who has entered the union.

"These were the guiding rails for students, parents and faculty for 40 years," he said. "The handrails have withstood time and are beautiful."

Maurer said the pieces of handrails will serve as a thank you for the people who have served the UA. He hopes they will be given to past university presidents, administrators and faculty.

In Phase I of the union construction, the handrails next to the former Gallagher Theatre will be cut up into 12-inch pieces for plaques.

Tarcola said they will be pulled out in mid or late October, before the demolition.

"We're just waiting for the right time," he said.

Facilities Management is going to remove the handrails and replace them with safety rails in the next few weeks. The replacement rails will be used for the next year and made out of more cost-effective wood.

Now, the handrails throughout the union are made out of manzona, a type of African wood which is an imitation of black walnut wood.

But UA officials don't want to abandon the tradition of the old handrails.

"The primary purpose is the commencement of the dedication and loyalty of Lionel Jacobs," said Chris Kraft, director of Facilities Design Construction for the union.

Kraft said a committee made up of Facilities Management representatives and others who are involved with construction will come up with a list of alumni, employees, staff and students who will receive parts of the handrails.

He said the remaining chunks may be sold as souvenirs.

Jacobs was part of the Arizona Sash and Door team that was contracted in the late 1950s to make and install the handrails. He was part of the company's six member team and later worked for the UA for 31 years as facilities project manager.

Jacobs was a journeyman benchman for Arizona Sash and Door and contributed in the process of making the rails.

"I helped with the whole process, like selecting the wood, sanding the wood, making the panels," he said.

Jacobs said there were four phases to install all of the handrails which started in the late-50s and lasted through the 70s. He said he worked on the first two phases and is happy to hear that he will be receiving a piece of UA history.

"That would be great, it's a good feeling that 30 some years ago we made them - that would be really nice," he said.

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