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Preservationists to UGA: Commit Now to Saving Doomed Dorm

Dozens gather at hearing to protest proposal to bulldoze 1930s dorm

Rutherford Hall needs to be saved as a part of a “living history” for “future generations of Bulldogs.” So said supporters who gathered Tuesday night to protest a in favor of larger, more expensive digs for University of Georgia students.

About 60 supporters showed up at a public hearing on South Campus the dorm’s possible demolition. They talked about Rutherford’s communal atmosphere, its historic importance, the livable scale that has attracted students to the old brick dormitory on South Campus, year after year.

“Rutherford Hall is not just another old building,” said Jordan Poole of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. “It is irreplaceable.”

“This is a public university after all,” said Amy Kissane, director of the . “If the university really cares about what the community thinks, they would commit to preserving Rutherford Hall, and do it now.”

“North Campus is amazing – it’s beautiful,” UGA student Hollis Yates said. “That same distinction should be given to South Campus.”

The building has had problems with moisture and black mold, among other issues. Plans for demolishing the 1939 residence hall and replacing it with one that has 100 more beds have been forwarded to UGA President Michael Adams for consideration. The university’s long-range master plan called for keeping the dorm, so the option of demolition, one of a range of options, took the campus by surprise earlier this summer.

As the campus awaits a decision by Adams, resistance has been growing. Numerous organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have come out in strong opposition to the idea. A petition with more than 560 names is in circulation.

One student at the Tuesday hearing asked, why hatch such a “Frankensteinian” plot anyway? 

According to the idea already forwarded to the UGA president, the proposed new dorm that could rise from Rutherford’s ashes will “look the same as the one we pull down” but bigger and more expensive, said Kyle Campbell, president of UGA’s Student Historical Preservation Organization. ”Are we really going to tell them their legacy was worth 100 extra beds?”

The school is guilty of false advertisement when it bills itself as the “oldest state-chartered university in America,” but plans to knock over a 72-year-old former women’s dorm built by the Works Progress Administration, UGA graduate student Catherine Garner said.

The campus should evolve as a tapestry that represents the entire lifespan of the school, said Poole of the Georgia Trust, which “strongly opposes” any Rutherford demolition.

Generations of women living and studying there gave the building a good vibe, some said. The back veranda in itself was great for visiting and courting in the 1970s, said former UGA student and current UGA employee Helen Fosgate.

 “Lots of marriages were hatched in Rutherford,” Fosgate said.

And the current residents like it, too.

“How many years have you been living there Henry, five?” asked one student, addressing a classmate in the crowd. “It has a certain openness and ambience. You’re not going to get that in a modern-style dorm.”

Don’t make the old dorm a “casualty in the name of so-called progress,” said Jared Wood, who teaches archeology at UGA. “UGA should be leading by example, not lagging behind.”

Administrators did not answer questions or discuss options at the hearing, but merely recorded the arguments for keeping Rutherford, which irked some in the crowd, gathered in the auditorium at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. The meeting was advertised shortly before the long Labor Day weekend.

“They want to take Rutherford from us, but you don’t feel compelled to answer any questions,” Fosgate said. “I don’t think there’s been a lot of respect shown.”

“If we’d had a little more notice, this room would have been full,” Kissane said. “I wish Dr. Adams had been here to hear (the students) himself. I don’t see how he could do anything but save it.”

To supporters, saving Rutherford is a no-brainer. It’s a historic building, anchoring one end of a South Campus residential quadrangle that includes Soule, Mary Lyndon and Myers halls. Saving it is cheaper than building a new dorm, about $12,000 a bed cheaper, Historic preservationist groups have gone on record with preservation pleas and offers of support and fundraising.

The university’s governing board, the state Board of Regents, wants the university to come up with a preservation plan for the campus, something it has not done to date, although it is strewn with old and important buildings.

“More than 10 universities in the university system have preservation plans,” said James Reap, who teaches in UGA College of Environmental Design. “Why are we letting Southwest Georgia lead the pack?”

“This is just one of those penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions, from an historic point of view,” Fosgate said.

Nancy Zechella September 07, 2011 at 04:25 PM
What is happening to our "classic" city? Longstanding fraternity houses have been torn down, two smaller historic houses are on the slate to be demolished.,and now Rutherford Hall. In my opinion, this 'so called progress' is teaching our youth NOT to value history or our past achivements. The idea, bigger and newer are better, leads students down the wrong path. What happened to the days of college students aspiring to accumulate what their parents have worked so hard for? Does outfitting a dorm with the latest conveniences perpetuate the gimme-gimme generation?
Joan Stroer White September 08, 2011 at 07:23 PM
Good points Nancy. I would add that I think with the current demand for UGA entrance, new buildings and amenities are probably not necessary as a lure for the best and brightest anymore.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) September 08, 2011 at 08:22 PM
It's all in the name of efficiency. More students + bigger dorm = more money.
Joan Stroer White September 08, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Leaving aside the millions in debt created in financing a new building.

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