Oscar Ritchie Hall will receive a facelift

David Yochum


Credit: John Proppe

By Fall 2008, the dark, shadowy building on the front of campus will have a face.

It will be a face with two stories of glass eyes, clear enough to see the old body that changed from the inside out.

And that old body will still rely on its 57-year-old heart to teach history and change.

Oscar Ritchie Hall, which houses the department of Pan-African studies and the Center for Pan-African Culture, will undergo a $10 million renovation, beginning next summer, said Beth Ruffing, assistant director of architecture and engineering.

Renovation plans and illustrations show a virtual gutting of the entire building, making room for the addition of a two-story lobby entrance, a glass-walled art gallery, a new library and computer lab, elevator, reshaped classrooms, lecture halls, offices, seminar rooms and even a visiting artist studio. The architecture firm designing the renovations is Moody Nolan, Inc.

Students in Oscar Ritchie Hall will also benefit from the conveniences of skylights, an air conditioning system, tinted windows, plush study areas, wireless Internet, four plasma televisions and a long-awaited new roof.

“We want to bring in more light, which is hard because so much of the building is below grade,” Ruffing said. “The layout of the building had a lot to do with how to utilize space. Not a lot of people like to live underground.”

Interior hallways of Oscar Ritchie Hall, most of which are covered in artwork, will be completely torn down and reshaped to incorporate a circular African design theme.

Fran Dorsey, associate professor of Pan-African studies, said the artwork adorning the walls has been digitally photographed and touched up by a professional photographer. The art can then be printed on a number of materials and re-hung anywhere after renovation.

Ruffing said she feels the biggest challenge to the renovation has been coming up with a concept and meeting the budget. She explained the structure and columns of the building limited renovation options.

Dorsey is excited to see student reaction to Oscar Ritchie Hall’s renovation plans, but she said she believes one of the biggest obstacles was getting the renovation off the ground.

“The university has been saying this will be renovated for 10 years – they kept saying be patient and we’ve been patient,” Dorsey said. “The roof in this building has leaked since I came (to Oscar Ritchie Hall) in 1979.”

Kevin Gibson, vice president of Black United Students, agreed.

“There were two protests to get action because the university kept giving us the run-around,” he said. “This should have happened years ago.”

A look around Oscar Ritchie Hall reveals broken tiles as well as outdated bathrooms and classroom facilities, which only begin to show the building’s age. Dorsey said the university only installed air conditioning on the third floor three years ago, after ongoing complaints by faculty.

Sasha Parker, BUS president, said that the building’s condition should have been addressed sooner, but she said it’s important to make sure the heritage of the structure remains.

“I think a lot of the university has viewed Oscar Ritchie Hall as expendable, but it should be publicized more and be made more diverse,” she said. “Black students have respect for the building and view it as a safe haven.”

One of the only sections of Oscar Ritchie Hall that won’t receive a major facelift is the second floor Pan-African theater. The theater was renovated in 1998, but Dorsey said it will receive a new double-door entrance, built-in makeup tables and improved storage space. A new ticket area will also be added.

Contact minority affairs reporter David Yochum at [email protected].