As part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “What's the little building next to Abel-Sandoz used for and what did it used to be? The one on Vine St. across from the soccer fields.”
This small building is the American Mathematics Competitions Building. According to emeritus professor of mathematics and former American Mathematics Competitions employee Steven Dunbar, the building has served as the headquarters of a construction company, been the location to sort out thousands of mathematics tests and was used by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Campus Recreation. It currently houses a physiology laboratory used by the UNL’s Nutrition and Health Sciences department.
The physiology lab used to be located in the basement of Mabel Lee Hall, but in May 2019, it was temporarily relocated to the American Mathematics Competitions Building due to Mabel Lee Hall’s scheduled demolition, according to nutrition and health sciences professor Terry Housh. Housh said the lab will relocate back to the basement of the new Mabel Lee Hall once it is rebuilt.
In years prior, the building was the headquarters of a construction company. Dunbar said whenever the construction company had leftover material from a project, they would add on to the building.
“You can sort of see that there were different materials in various places in the building, and it had a couple of different levels in it so it sort of felt like it had been added on,” Dunbar said.
Later, UNL Campus Recreation operated out of the building. According to Dunbar, the building was used to rent out much of the same equipment Campus Recreation rents out today, including canoes, kayaks, badminton sets and golf clubs. He said the garage located on the east side of the building was used for loading the rental boats.
After Campus Recreation moved into its current space west of 14th Street between Vine and W streets, the American Mathematics Competitions moved its world headquarters into the building. The organization had previously been run from the home of Walter Mientka, a former UNL mathematics professor, before outgrowing that space, according to Rachelle Jensen, administrative technician for the UNL math department and former employee for the American Mathematics Competitions.
The American Mathematics Competitions administered several different exams for middle and high school students with the purpose of finding six students to represent the United States at the International Mathematical Olympiad, according to Jensen.
“We have a lot of stuff that came through that office,” Jensen said. “We’d get all these exams and stacks and we had a small storeroom in the back where we’d store answer sheets, the exam booklets, teachers manuals — anything that we put together with the contest to go out to the schools.”
Dunbar said that he estimates between 300,000 and 500,000 exams came through the building each year to be packaged and scored.
“It was an interesting operation that not a lot of people knew about, but we were there,” Jensen said.
In 2015, the American Mathematics Competition moved to Washington D.C., leaving the building vacant until May 2019, according to Jensen.
“It was kind of an odd little building but it actually suited our purposes really well and was really well-suited to what we were doing,” Dunbar said. “It actually worked out quite well for us. It was a good location.”