North Wing Thompson Complex ends with ceremony

Keith Philips, left, and Larry Elliot, right, walk through the empty classrooms in WKU’s Thompson Complex North Wing after the ceremony for the building’s closing on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Elliot taught Biology and Microbiology at the school for 42 years and Philips has taught Biology since 2000. (Brian Powers/Herald)

Trey Crumbie

Crowds of people congregated in one of the classrooms in the North Wing of Thompson Complex to share their memories, both good and bad, of the establishment on Thursday, Jan. 23. 

The building, constructed in 1960, shut down on Friday, Jan. 24 due to heating and cooling system failures.

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,” she 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 1970s.

“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,” he 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 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.’”

Blaine Ferrell, a professor on transitional retirement in the biology department, said his memories of the people, rather than the building, were more vivid.

“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.” 

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.

Ferrell said after he obtained his master’s degree in biology from WKU in 1975, 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.

“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.” 

The ceremony concluded with Stevens inviting the visitors to sign the border of a giant photograph of the North Wing.

Marcus Korba, an alumnus who graduated in the spring semester of 2013, took several biology and chemistry classes within the building.

Korba said the building’s closure was bittersweet.

“It’s good to come see it come to an end, but I didn’t enjoy it when I was part of it,” Korba said.