A current photo of the Hill Memorial Building (Northern Review/Gabriel Mott) is coupled with a photo of the building shortly after its 1913 fire (Photo Credit: Heterick Memorial Library). The building’s third floor was lost in the fire.
The oldest building on campus, and the second-ever built in Ohio Northern’s history, the Hill Memorial building may be on the chopping block. Although several departments have called Hill their home throughout ONU’s history, the Political Science, History, and Geography departments currently use the space. While the board is considering demolishing the building, some students of these disciplines have taken action. As a result, an open letter was submitted to President Bauman on Wednesday, Oct. 5th, with 24 signatures, pleading for “our hope to save Hill.” You can read the full letter here.
Jarrod Jones is a senior history major who wrote the letter with the input of several of his peers. He got editing help from four professors in Hill and was primarily responsible for the letter’s circulation and submission. Although he has siphoned the will of Hill students into his letter, he stresses that his actions are meant to reflect the will of the student body, saying, “I don’t consider myself to be leading this.” He had initially intended to spend more time circulating his letter and lobbying the cause; however he felt compelled to submit the letter early out of fear of an imminent decision by the board of trustees.
Logan Harrah is a senior political science major, who holds leadership roles in College Democrats, Amnesty International, Mock Trial, and Model United Nations, all of which meet in the Hill Memorial Building. He has signed the letter sent to President Bauman and allowed time during College Democrats to promote the cause and generate more signatures. He feels strongly that Hill should not be raized and attests to the attitude shared by several residents of Hill, student and faculty alike.
While not totalizing, both accounts indicate a common opinion of ONUs History, Political Science, and Geography students. With this newfound turbulence as a backdrop, it is appropriate to seriously consider the merits and faults of tearing down the Hill memorial building. As a complement to the letter, please find an argument in favor of tearing down Hill as well as an argument against tearing down Hill.
Why we SHOULD Tear Down Hill
Safety is undoubtedly the most compelling argument in favor of the demolition of Hill Memorial, both because it is the most immediately evident and because safety should always be the predominant priority of a college administration. The building has sustained two fires, one in 1889 and another in 1913. The latter reduced the building to its outside walls, and only the first two floors could be rebuilt. Additionally, the basement of Hill has experienced regular flooding. These events compound upon the everyday structural wear that comes with buildings aging–Hill is now 143 years old.
These safety considerations should easily justify at least the renovation of Hill–the open letter itself declares that “the solution is not the destruction of the building, but the repair of the building.” When significant renovation is already necessary, there is less buy-in to commit to demolition and reconstruction all together. The students’ displacement would already require the attention of the university. The only difference, in effect, would be an increase in the time and money necessary to complete the operation. It would be extremely complicated to quantify these values, but it is suitable to accept them as abstract considerations for the sake of argument.
In continuation of the hypothetical, a secondary argument exists in favor of demolishing Hill Memorial in that it would likely result in a significantly better building after reconstruction. A modern building would include better learning technologies and better use of space. For example the James Lehr Kennedy building for the college of engineering, includes several areas to facilitate student collaboration. Hill has no such features outside of the couches in the lobby, the conference room, and the classrooms themselves.
Another consideration in favor of a new building–and the prerequisite destruction of Hill Memorial–is the sudden growth of the student body. Overall enrollment has increased from 2,814 in 2020 to 3,116 in 2021 to even greater in 2022 (we don’t have exact numbers yet). While this is partly attributable to recovery from COVID restrictions, it may also represent a more significant and permanent trend. In this case, it would be wise to create more space in anticipation of the needs of a larger student population.
Why we SHOULD NOT Tear Down Hill
As with the argument in favor of demolishing the Hill Memorial building, safety is rightfully given priority in the case against demolishing Hill. As conceded in the open letter to President Bauman, the safety concerns around Hill make it so that the university cannot simply ignore the building’s existence. As such, they should take some action. The demolition opponents contend that this should be a renovation of the building. Extensive enough renovation can provide some of the amenities of a new building, at least where technological improvements are concerned. As addressed, this route would also be cheaper and less time-consuming than demolition.
These considerations broadly address the arguments flaws in favor of demolition. The core argument against the destruction of Hill lies in an appeal to the values and history of Ohio Northern University. Once named “Administrative Building,” Hill Memorial is the oldest surviving building on campus and the second ever constructed. Opening in 1903, Dukes Hall is the second oldest at 119 years of operation, with Lehr Memorial third at 108 years. Hill’s 143 years of age are placed at a unique extreme of campus history, making it especially valuable as a relic of the past. Many are concerned that demolishing Hill would, in effect, disconnect ONU from its past, and they advocate the innate value of preserving history.
Complementary to the rich history of the Hill building, there is a supplemental argument about the architecture of Hill. As the only building on campus with stucco, Hill is a unique and iconic piece of Ohio Northern. While beauty is a subjective metric, Hill has been used in several promotional materials for the university, becoming a staple of campus. Being located on Main Street, next to the main entrance, Hill also serves as one of the first impressions taken by prospective students. Replacement by a building with a glass-and-steel facade similar to the Kennedy engineering building would further decrease the architectural diversity present at Ohio Northern in favor of more uniform modernity.
Another simple argument exists against tearing down the Hill building, students don’t want it to be torn down. Ohio Northern has always been a particularly student-oriented campus, and there is an argument to be made that it would be a moral good to satisfy the desires of the student body, especially when all other considerations seem relatively equal.
It can be challenging to reconcile practical considerations, like the logistics and money involved, with valued ones, like the historical or architectural value of the building, but this will be the board of directors’ job. As students are not usually privy to all of the functions of the university, we may not know Hill’s fate for a while. Until then, please consider how you might feel depending on the news.