By Victoria Smith
Due to complications caused by extreme weather conditions in the winter of 2017-2018, entry into Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall was prohibited until necessary repairs were completed. Over a year later, a public town hall meeting was held in order to discuss possible repairs to be made to the historic building.
Faculty, staff and students filled the seats of the Founder Library Browsing Room on Thursday, Oct. 24 to discuss what could become the new and improved Douglass Hall.
Derrek L. Niec-Williams, the Executive Director of Campus Planning, Architecture and Development, began to walk attendees through a visual outline of the possible upgrades that would be applied to Douglass Hall.
It was revealed to attendees that constraints the team has to work around include budgetary limits, historic landmark status (changes can only be made to the interior of the building), regulatory approvals (permits and making sure the building is up to code), and existing building and campus infrastructure.
Some of the planned upgrades include more storage space on the second floor, an increased number of classrooms on the second floor (as well as up to date technology in those classrooms), and additional administrative and reading rooms on the third floor. Most importantly, Douglass will be removed from the steam plant that initially caused the shutdown, and it will be provided with its own boilers.
The official budget estimates will be obtained from the architect of this project on Nov. 14, and the tentative completion date for these renovations is sometime during the Fall of 2020.
A short Q&A session was held following the presentation in order to discuss any apprehensions with the proposed plans. Among the concerns mentioned were the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms, and a lack of confidentiality between staff members and students due to certain designs that would have multiple staff members working in one room.
In response to these concerns, Executive Dir. Niec-Williams referred back to the presentation to identify where the restrooms would be placed and he also made sure to reiterate that these floor plans would not be the final decision, but simply an example of possible changes that would be made.
Some questioned the ability to complete the project in a 10-month time frame, however, Niec-Williams assured everyone in attendance that the opening of the building would remain on schedule.
“We will continue to [present these preliminary designs] and receive the feedback that we need. We are definitely engaging and we want to make sure we collect all the feedback possible,” said Niec-Williams.
Many students are hopeful about these upcoming changes.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing what the inside is gonna look like. I’m keeping an open mind since I never got a chance to see what Douglass looked like before,” said Alafia Bailey, a freshman philosophy and criminology double major.