NSU students, alumni fight to save Brown Hall

Posted at 9:26 PM, Jul 31, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-31 21:26:58-04

 A historic Norfolk State building could be torn down.

There’s an outcry on the Norfolk State University campus to save Brown Hall. Some students and alumni oppose plans to demolish the oldest facility on campus in favor of a new and improved building.

It’s a growing debate pitting what makes good financial sense to the new president, versus memories and sentimentality.

What is so special about the bricks and mortar of Brown Hall? Just ask an NSU graduate.

"Brown Hall brings back memories because everything was in Brown Hall in 1965,” says Lionell Spruill, an alumnus and member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

"I think it’s important to try to maintain as many of our buildings as possible,” says Sonya Smith, an NSU alumna

Built in the 1950s, it was and is the heartbeat of all things NSU. So beloved, it's mentioned in the school song.

Generations of students made dates to meet under the Big Clock, but now it appears time may have run out for Brown Hall.  

"There's an old saying, ‘The only person who typically embraces change is a wet baby,’” says NSU President Tony Atwater.

Atwater says he conducted a study comparing the cost of building new or renovating the old structure.

"And 24 million dollars is quite frankly, is coming close to what it would cost to build a new building,” Atwater says.

That said, a group of NSU alumni launched an online petition to convince the president to make every effort to save the original Brown Hall. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had 130 signatures.

State Delegate Lionell Spruill was one of the alumni who was opposed to demolition and met the president to ask him to reconsider.

"I said, we want to renovate it, but then I found out all the facts,” says Del. Spruill. "Right now, they got leaks in that building, got asbestos in the building and it’s not safe right now.”

"Our foremost interest is for the health and safety of our students and our faculty,” says Atwater.

The oldest facility on campus is named for George William Clement Brown, who was one of NSU’s founders. President Atwater met with the Brown family and he says they approve of transferring the name to a new and improved facility.

 Alumni appear split on tearing down the old or rebuilding the new.

"I really would like to make sure we are exploring all of the options before we decide to tear down our last remaining building, original building on campus,” says Smith.

"Let's get a brand new building and make it better for today's students. I love Brown Hall, but we got to pass it on,” says Del. Spruill.

The state has made no promises, but Del. Spruill says he will do his part to convince state lawmakers to provide the funding for a new Brown Hall.

The school will need the help, considering it receives just one third of its operating budget from the commonwealth, to serve more than 7,000 students.