Students Organize to Save Historic Hall

Future of Dormitory at University of Georgia in Doubt

UPDATE: In September 2011, UGA announced its decision to raze and rebuild Rutherford Hall.

This fall, students at the University of Georgia will move into Rutherford Hall for the one of the last times. The university, located in Athens, requires additional student housing, and is considering demolishing a historic red-brick dormitory built in 1939 and constructing a new facility in its place. 

According to Danny Sniff, associate vice president in the university's Facilities Planning Department, demolishing the building is a last resort, one of multiple possibilities under review. "UGA has an excellent track record with historic preservation. It's regrettable that this is an option, but we have to consider it. For the past four years, we've looked at every way not to raze Rutherford."  The cost of demolishing the existing dormitory and building a 260-bed facility comes out to $75,740 per bedroom; renovating the existing 150-bedroom dorm (losing 10 beds in the process) would cost $63,184 per bedroom.  

But Mary Alston Killen, a 2009 UGA graduate who lived in Rutherford throughout her college career, says "the fact that Rutherford underwent renovation to make it co-ed shows that it can adapt to the times." Killen now works for Franklin College of Arts and Sciences whose students live in Rutherford.

"In most UGA housing, you live in a high-rise with at least a thousand people. I wanted to live in place that felt like home. [Rutherford Hall] never stopped being an amazing source of community."

– UGA graduate Mary Alston Killen

One of the first women's dormitories built on the university's campus, Rutherford Hall is notable for its open fireplaces and marble hearths – features integrated by the Public Works Administration to make the residential facility more appealing to female students. Today, the three-story, Neoclassical dorm (which is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places) houses students studying the arts, humanities, and the sciences.

UGA President Michael Adams has said it would be more cost-effective for the university to raze the structure and build a larger dormitory. "I have heard [opponents'] concerns and I have listened. I'm pretty close to being a fanatic about historic preservation myself," Adams said at a July 15 press conference. He stated he would consider all options before making any recommendation to the Board of Regents, which will ultimately decide Rutherford's fate. But, due to the presence of mold, leaky pipes, and a crumbling foundation, "reports are pretty well unanimous that we would be better served with a new building," the president said.

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, both partner organizations of the National Trust, have opposed demolition of Rutherford Hall, as has UGA's Student Historic Preservation Organization.  Protesters have also created an online petition.

"UGA does not have a comprehensive preservation plan for the campus," says Amy Kissane, executive director of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation. "For years the university has resisted the mandate contained in the 1999 State Stewardship Act to produce a preservation plan."

If razed, officials have said they will first document Rutherford for the university archives, in compliance with state law. Under Georgia's state stewardship law, the university must also keep the state preservation office informed as the process moves forward.

July 8 marked the deadline for design firms to submit their qualifications for the new dormitory project, and the university will select an architect to head the study this week. A full study outlining possible options and making a recommendation for the future of the building will be released in the fall.

No matter what the study recommends, UGA officials have stated that no action will be taken until summer 2012—because the university needs the Rutherford Hall rooms for the upcoming school year.

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