CU Boulder Old Main Bees Graduate to Mountain Warrior Honey

“We're re-homing the bees to a more natural home.” - Tanya Nurkiewicz, Project Manager

Published: December 27, 2023

While inspecting the Old Main building on the CU Boulder campus in preparation for the historic preservation project, the GH Phipps team discovered a sweet surprise inside the building’s buttresses. Two large bee hives had been protected inside the bricks on the northwest and southeast corners of the historic building.

The buttresses had a deep, hollow space inside the bricks allowing the bees to access the space through large holes in the mortar. Miles McGaughey, owner of Mountain Warrior Honey, further explored the bees’ homes using thermal imaging and probes. Miles found tens of thousands of bees were in attendance at CU Boulder’s Old Main building. Graduating these bees to a safe home before the project required planning and careful care.

“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 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.

Constructed in 1886, the Old Main Building was the first building on the CU campus. It provided classrooms, administrative offices, housing, and a dining hall to students at the time.

The upcoming, $8 million project is set to begin in early 2024. It will include the remodeling of classrooms, structural improvements, facade improvement, and site restoration. The architect is Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.

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