Oscar Ritchie ready to reopen this fall

Shamira Fowler

After a year of renovations, the department of Pan-African Studies looks forward to moving back home

University professor Halim El-Dabh unpacks. David Ranucci I Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

A row of benches and tables line a wall for students to enjoy food from the nearby cafeteria. David Ranucci I Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

The entrance to Oscar Ritchie Hall has changed considerably. Below right: University professor Halim El-Dabh unpacks. Above right: A row of benches and tables line a wall for students to enjoy food from the nearby cafeteria. David Ranucci I Daily Kent Sta

Credit: DKS Editors

In its 60 years of existence, Oscar Ritchie Hall has acted as a home away from home for members of the Kent State community, particularly the department of Pan-African Studies. After a year of remodeling, both faculty and students are preparing to move back into the recently refurbished building.

“I’m definitely ready,”said Alene Barnes, associate professor of Pan-African Studies. “The excitement is there, just like buying a new home.”

The construction for Oscar Ritchie Hall, which began in the summer of 2007, will be finalized for incoming students this fall semester. The completion of Oscar Ritchie will be commemorated with an open house Aug. 20.

Michael Bruder, assistant director of architecture and engineering, said the remodeling for Oscar Ritchie was not simply new window treatments, but a modernization of an old building.

“It was actually a complete renovation where we emptied the entire building and did what we would call a gut rehabilitation of the place,” Bruder said.

The contemporary Oscar Ritchie Hall will provide new offices for faculty and student organizations and a faculty commons space. Other improvements include an updated computer laboratory with wireless Internet, a resource center with library materials, a multipurpose room, student lounge areas, flat-panel television screens in hallways and common areas to display artwork.

In addition, the building now has a back entrance, an elevator and a cooling and heating unit. Such features are common to other buildings but were not previously in Oscar Ritchie Hall.

“We are looking forward to climate control,” said George Garrison professor of Pan-African Studies. “It was one of the coldest buildings in the winter and the hottest room in the summer.”

At the lower level, there are three new classrooms, a Jazzman’s Café Coffee Cart and new study space.

Although the African Community Theatre was not renovated, additional entranceways were added, as was a green room for actors.

The budget for the Oscar Ritchie renovations was set at $10.4 million. As construction workers ran into complications, it ended up costing almost $1 million more.

“Whenever we’re doing renovation in an older building, it’s always tricky and complicated because the building isn’t necessarily built like the initial layouts we have,” Bruder said. “Once you open the building and get started, the building is not exactly what you expected.”

A time for action

Getting the school to begin renovations for Oscar Ritchie Hall, which also houses the Institute for African-American Affairs, the African Community Theater and UHURU magazine, was no easy feat.

Garrison said he believes there has always been some hesitation toward the needs of the department of Pan African Studies from the school and the administration.

DeMareo Cooper, former Black United Students president, was one of the driving forces behind Oscar Ritchie’s renovations back in 2004. Cooper said he saw what he thought was an injustice and decided to take action.

“What happened is that they were remodeling all the buildings around that building, and I kind of noticed it,” Cooper said. “So I went and looked at the history of the (renovation) plans and I (saw) every year it was just getting pushed back – first 1997, then the next plan was in 2002 and then the next in 2008.”

Cooper said he decided to talk to building coordinators at the time but had little success. Cooper then decided it was time for action.

“We (students) marched out to the plaza, and the same dude that said he didn’t want to talk to us, all of a sudden, we’re sitting in a room with him,” Cooper said. “We had a plan and knew exactly what we wanted. It was definitely a student movement supported by staff.”

The efforts and activism of student supporters like Cooper helped shed light on the importance of the department of Pan-African Studies and race relations to the Kent community.

“This is a core element that constitutes the most important thing on this university campus: diversity,” Garrison said.

The new home feeling

Garrison said he hopes the new building will spark curiosity in students who may not have taken classes in Oscar Ritchie Hall before.

“I hope the curiously of students, both black and white, are going to get them here, and I know once they (are) in there, the climate will keep them there,” he said.

Other faculty members are just happy that all classes will be located in one building.

“Temporary housing had classes all over campus,” Barnes said. “I found myself carrying my office in the back seat of my car. And having more office space as a professor is important. I’ve always lived in a cubicle.”

Garrison said he is not only happy to move into a building that has been newly renovated, but to move into a building that has so much history.

“This is one thing people need to understand, whether they’re white, black, green, yellow or polka dot: Oscar Ritchie is a treasure to Kent State,” Garrison said.

Contact minority affairs reporter Shamira Fowler at