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Built in a Romanesque style of buff brick and gray sandstone trim, Barney has arched windows with hoodmolds, and features arcading on its façade. Locally quarried byer sandstone was used for its foundation. Barney was gutted by fire in 1905 and rebuilt with reinforced concrete interiors and tile floors to be fireproof. Originally it housed the science departments but was renovated in an environmentally-friendly way in the 1990s to house the McPhail Center for Environmental Studies and the English Department. It is a well-maintained building of classrooms and offices.
Barney Hall was built for the science departments at Denison, at a time when many campuses did not have separate facilities for the sciences. Science was a long-time focus of Denison's educational mission, and well-known scientists such as Charles L. Herrick taught here. The building originally was named in honor of Denison benefactor, Eliam E. Barney, whose son, trustee Eugene J. Barney, provided funds to construct Barney Hall and to rebuild it after the fire. In the 1990s, "green" renovations included installing a gray water system, removing false ceilings to bring in as much natural light as possible, and providing a natural gas heating/cooling system separate from other campus buildings. Renamed Barney-Davis Hall after the renovations, the building's historic ambiance was preserved and enhanced, while it serves as a model of environmental sustainability.
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