Student-led movement fights back against MU plan to demolish Read Hall

MU said demolishing the building will save the university money, though some community members say preserving history is more valuable.

By Teagan King

MU recently announced the MU Space Reduction and Strategic Relocation Plan, which includes plans to demolish the historic Read Hall, but a group of history students are challenging this plan through a petition and social media campaign.

Many community members support history students Catherine Hutinett, Jordan Pellerito and Bailey Martin’s mission to save this building’s rich history, starting with a petition that already received over 2,000 signatures in just a few weeks.

Read Hall, originally constructed in 1903, is named after Daniel Read, the MU president who opened the university to women in 1867. It currently houses the Department of History, but it has served a variety of purposes throughout its history, including as a 1918 influenza hospital, the university’s student union and the first women’s dormitory at MU.

Before the construction of Read Hall, women attending MU had to look elsewhere in Columbia for a place to live. Read Hall made attending MU more accessible for women, specifically low-income women.

Beginning in 1940, it served as MU’s student union for several years, during which it housed the headquarters for 11 student groups and the Dean of Students’ office.

The MU Space Reduction and Strategic Relocation Plan, announced in a March 4 email, was initiated in 2017. MU News Bureau Director Christian Basi said the university was “very aware that we needed to remove a significant amount of our physical footprint from the campus because we were not utilizing the space in the most efficient manner possible.”

Every building on campus is evaluated on a rotation once every five years. The university evaluates the buildings based on their physical condition, necessary updates and repairs needed to keep them on par with technology and student demands.

Next, each building is assigned a Facility Conditions Needs Index Number to measure how much must be spent to improve the building’s condition to best serve university needs.

A building with an FCNI of 0.4 or higher must be considered for demolition, as it becomes cheaper to demolish that building and build a new one in its place. Read Hall has an FCNI of 0.61, meaning it would cost 61% of the hall’s worth to repair it.

Despite this high cost, many community members argue that Read Hall is worth saving because of its rich history and impact on MU.

Catherine Rymph, professor of history and chair of the Department of History, said the department moved to Read Hall in 1988. They now use the building mainly as office space and said many of the people who work in the building enjoy its central location on campus.

Rymph said many people in the department were disappointed to hear the news of the plan to demolish the building. “We were pretty surprised to hear that it was happening so soon… a lot of us have been working in this building for a long time,” she said.

Hutinett, Pellerito and Martin shared this pain with the history department, and they decided to act on their frustration and challenge the university’s plan to demolish Read Hall with their petition and social media campaign.

Rymph said the history department is not involved in the movement to save Read Hall, though she said it has been “great watching the students take the knowledge that they’ve learned in their history classes and really be empowered by it.”

Hutinett, Pellerito and Martin started brainstorming ways to challenge the plan almost immediately after it was announced. Pellerito, a second-year Ph.D. student, said they wanted to fight back against the plan out of “a greater desire to see a more complete Mizzou history be told to students and alumni and faculty in general.”

Martin, a sophomore studying constitutional democracy and history, quickly created a petition to save Read Hall with the help of Pellerito and Hutinett to show MU the measure of community support behind saving the building. Hutinett said their original goal was to reach just 100 signatures, so their group has been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support they have received so far.

They also launched an Instagram page called @savereadhall, which has over 100 followers.

“There’s not a single person on this campus whose story can’t be traced, at least in some aspect, to Read Hall,” Hutinett said. “It’s not just a history department concern, it should be a concern for every single student on this campus.”

Basi said he understands faculty and students’ reactions to the plan and community members’ attachments to the building.

“There is never a good time to make these announcements,” he said. “We completely understand that there are personal connections to these structures.”

However, he emphasized how MU believes the plan would save money and make students more academically successful. He said the eight buildings included in the plan would save MU $2.5 million annually.

Basi said covering the amount for a Missouri Pell scholarship would be more accessible once the buildings, including Read Hall, are demolished. He said $5,000 is the average amount MU spends to cover the difference in tuition between all other aid and scholarships for each student eligible for the scholarship.

Hutinett, Pellerito and Martin understand the economic motives behind the plan but believe that educating students on the university’s history and promoting inclusion is more beneficial.

“This very rich history of the institution is going to be… forgotten whenever it gets demolished and we just didn’t want to see that happen,” Martin said. “We truly believe that the cultural impact that this building can have on campus far outweighs some financial aspects,” Hutinett added.

Martin and Hutinett think the building should be preserved to teach the community and campus visitors about the school’s history, referencing MU’s past struggles with diversity and inclusion. They said Read Hall’s construction was a step in the right direction for the university.

Basi said MU still plans to proceed with the demolition because it makes the most financial sense for the university.

“There’s a balance of making sure that we can invest properly in the right resources so that our students are competitive,” he said. “We can’t achieve that balance without taking these buildings down.”

Once demolished, no new building will be built in Read Hall’s place. Instead, the area will serve as open green space on campus.

Pellerito said that though she, Hutinett and Martin are not naive to the building’s costs, they would not be doing their jobs as members of the Department of History and the community if they did not promote saving the building.

“There is this emotional connection to the fact that this is a history so much bigger than any of the three of us,” said Hutinett. “Every single student on this campus, part of their story, lies in Read Hall as well.”

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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