Published: Aug. 30, 2023

Ahead of the 2024 Old Main preservation project, which is pending University of Colorado Board of Regents approval later this year, a contractor recently extracted two large bee hives from within buttresses on the northwest and southeast corners of the building. The goal of the initial inspection of the buttresses was to ensure the building continues to be structurally sound and in condition to withstand the elements.

On Aug. 9, Miles McGaughey, owner of Mountain Warrior Honey, performed an exploratory visit of the hives using thermal imaging and probes, during which he discovered the buttresses are non-structural elements of the building. In fact, they are only one brick deep and hollow on the inside, allowing bees to easily access the interior through large holes in the mortar joints.

“We’re re-homing the bees to a more natural home,” said Tanya Nurkiewicz, a project manager on the preservation project. “We know now that the buttresses don’t impact the structure, but we still don’t want to have an open cavity or allow more bees to take up residence, so part of the Old Main preservation project will include filling these buttresses.”

The hives were each roughly 2 feet and 4 feet long, respectively, and both spanned the width of the buttress above settled rubble. Each had signs of both old and new life, indicating an age of up to 80 years that may or may not have been continuous.

McGaughey returned on Aug. 15 to remove bricks from the buttresses and extract the bees. He then carefully cut out the combs, relocating them to a “nucleus hive,” or a smaller hive that contains the queen and her established colony. In addition to the bees and combs, he collected over 60 pounds of honey.

McGaughey has a “medicine yard” for bees, where the Old Main colony will be fed and built up to strength. They will be considered welfare bees for a year, after which time they will move to a permanent location.

Bee colonies inside Old Main mortar