Otto Olsen comes crashing down at hands of Chancellor Kristensen

Following months of abatement work and site preparation, construction crews began demolition Thursday morning of the Otto C. Olsen building at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

With much of the interior already gutted, Chancellor Doug Kristensen brought down the first wall on the west half of the building. Bricks, glass and metal crunched under the arm of the excavator as a handful of people gathered to watch.

“There’s nostalgia, but I don’t think there’s any regret. … I’m so excited to see this building come down,” said Kristensen. “When you see construction fence on a college campus that means there is progress going on.”

After spending more than two decades on the state’s capital construction replacement list, Otto Olsen was replaced by the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center that opened in fall 2019, an addition to the Fine Arts Building and Discovery Hall, a state-of-the-art STEM facility that opened in fall 2020.

The former vocational and industrial arts building opened in 1955 and was named after Otto C. Olsen in 1961. A graduate of the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney, Olsen joined the school’s staff in 1919 and retired in 1957. He was chairman of the Vocational Arts Division and Industrial Arts Department and a pioneer in the field of driver education.

Most recently, the Otto Olsen building housed UNK’s industrial technology and cyber systems departments, as well as the Child Development Center and glass/sculpture studio.

“This is a wonderful example of what investing in new facilities can do for a campus,” Kristensen said. “Students are attracted to new buildings. They are attracted to new opportunities. Otto Olsen didn’t give them those opportunities. Discovery Hall does give them the opportunities.”

Otto Olsen is the fourth UNK building removed this spring and summer as part of the campus master plan. The former Luke & Jake’s Bar-B-Q restaurant, UNK’s east heating plant and Conrad Hall were torn down over the past few months, with Blessing Construction of Kearney doing the work.

Future plans for the Otto Olsen space haven’t been finalized, but the area will include additional parking on the south side and green space to the north. Building demolition will continue over the next few weeks, and the site will continue to be graded and cleaned up the remainder of the summer and this fall.