Morrill Hall is definitely getting old.
[morrill1] It was the largest building on campus when it was first built in 1900, back when MSU was the Michigan Agricultural College. Originally called The Women’s Building, it housed the first women on campus until 1937. The hall also had gymnasiums, classrooms and cooking areas. The building eventually became known as Morrill Hall in honor of the 1862 Morrill Act, which founded land-grant institutions. A lot of history rests in that rust-red building, but its lifespan could soon be coming to a close.
On Feb. 11, the MSU Board of Trustees passed a plan 6-1 to build a $20 million, 750-spot parking ramp on Grand River Avenue right behind Morrill Hall. Signs were posted in Morrill’s current lot, which contains about 200 spaces, earlier in the month saying that it would soon be closing. The deadline has been extended to early March to allow those currently parking there to find another spot.
Concerns about the project have been raised by many students and faculty on campus because this was the first time many had even heard about the ramp plans.
Associate Professor of American history Christine Daniels said she knew there would be a parking ramp but didn’t know when. “When we [teachers] found out the project was going to start on Feb. 15, we were flabbergasted,” Daniels said.
Trustee Melanie Foster was the sole board member against the project. She didn’t find out about the building plan until early February, but attributes this to just having joined the board in January. “Apparently plans have been around for several years,” Foster said.
Foster’s main reason for her dissension was being unable to justify the cost of the project, because if they are adding 530 spaces, the cost per parking spot is $36,000. Foster was also concerned the parking ramp is going right in the historic core of campus.
“I’m not surprised that the campus reacted negatively,” Foster said. “I’m certainly disappointed it passed and I know several members from East Lansing share my opinion as well.”
One such person is Daniels, whose office is in Morrill Hall. She said it’s a beautiful building internally. “This is a very old building with a sinking foundation and is very fragile from what architects said,” Daniels said. “I am concerned that building such a large ramp right next to it will make it collapse on the inside.”
Some people on campus are taking action against the possible demolition of Morrill Hall as outlined in MSU’s 2020 Vision Plan, especially Anne Meyering, an associate professor of history, who is conducting research on Morrill Hall in regards to MSU’s 2020 Vision Plan. Studies are currently being done to determine whether it is worth it to keep Morrill around or not.
[morrill2] Dimity Palazzola, history and anthropology junior and secretary of the History Association of Michigan State (HAMS), is among those assisting Meyering. Palazzola said she’s known about the parking ramp project since last spring and is helping with research to protect Morrill. She feels the building will be left very vulnerable when the ramp is built right next to it, and that other areas of campus should be considered for a new parking ramp. She also fears the north end of campus will be losing aesthetic value. “This is supposed to be the pretty area on campus,” Palazoola said.
Other students are looking forward to more parking availability, including psychology sophomore Stephen Tietz. “There’s no parking on campus and there needs to be more,” he said. Tietz also said if the ramp is properly planned, there won’t be traffic problems on Grand River Avenue.
Daniels isn’t so sure – she’s concerned with the potential increase in traffic because she said it’s currently difficult exiting the Morrill Hall lot. “I’ve already been in a couple of near misses and people don’t always cross in the crosswalks, so what will happen when we add a larger parking structure?” Daniels said. In response to worries over the increased traffic, MSU announced on Feb. 23 that it will allow a campus entrance and exit on East Circle Drive using driveways already in existence.
The scenic value of old campus might give way to more parking spaces. The only hope is that they build something a little less obnoxious than the gigantic hamster cage across the street.
Morrill Hall is definitely getting old.