Students, alumni and faculty, both former and current, packed into Room 130 of the North Wing of the Thompson Complex to reconnect with the building and each other during the ‘End of an Era’ ceremony Thursday night.
The building, which was built in 1960, will be closed for good on Friday. Heating and cooling system failures were the causes of the closure.
The ceremony began with an audio recording of a jazz funeral. After the music had concluded, Cheryl Stevens, dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering, offered a recap of the history of the building.
“In 1960, 54 years ago, this building opened when this campus was still called Western Kentucky State College,” Stevens said. “I wish I could have gotten the numbers and even an estimate of the number of people who have been through or used this building.”
Stevens said the building was used by many departments over the years, such as the biology and chemistry departments. The physics department also used the building in the early 1970’s.
“So because of the impact that this building had on so many people, we thought it was only fitting to acknowledge its closure in a celebration of sorts,” Stevens said.
President Gary Ransdell was one of the first to share his experiences of the building.
“I have no real pleasant memories of this building,” Ransdell said, causing laughter within the crowd.
Ransdell said he held a student job in a biology lab where he cleaned petri dishes and took care of the rabbits that were used by the biology department. Ransdell tried to make a pet out of one of the rabbits after it was of no use to the department.
“It didn’t work,” Ransdell said.
Ransdell also spoke of the ultimate future of the building, which includes the demolition of the North Wing of Thompson Complex and a renovation of the Center Wing. Ransdell said the total cost of the project would cost $48 million and hopes to receive that funding from the state this spring.
“We will not rest until that project is funded and is done,” Ransdell said.
Ransdell ended his speech by thanking the faculty for their contributions and read reactions from alumni on that were posted on social media websites.
“May TCNW rest in peace. Long live WKU,” Ransdell quoted. “Wow, I think I flunked two classes there.”
David Hartman, who served as a faculty member for the chemistry department from 1966 to 2008, said the closing of the building will be unfortunate because it is in the middle of the academic year.
“This is a sad day,” Hartman said. “The chemistry department has taken a serious, serious hurt on this.”
Blaine Ferrell, a professor on transitional retirement in the biology department, said his memories of the people, rather than the building, were more vivid.
“When I came as a graduate student, I came from Philadelphia,” Ferrell said. “I didn’t pay any attention to the building quite frankly because the faculty were so welcoming.”
Ferrell said after he obtained his master’s degree in Biology from WKU in 1975, he went to Louisiana State University and obtained a doctorate degree in Zoology and Entomology. Afterwards, he came back to WKU as a faculty member in 1978 until he began his transitional retirement in 2011. Ferrell also served as head of the biology department and dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering.
The ceremony concluded with Stevens inviting the visitors to sign the border of a giant photograph of the North Wing.
“The building certainly served its purpose very well,” Ferrell said. “It’s really not the building that matters. It’s the people and the people that I came in contact with here…are very open and welcoming and really look out for each other and that’s the part I remember.”