Famous TB Ward at Athens Ridges to be Demolished
The building was built for patients with tuberculosis 50 years after the rest of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, now known as The Ridges, was constructed. It became the “Beacon School” in the 70s, but is no longer in use.
An architect himself, Vice President of Facilities Harry Wyatt isn’t happy about the solution.
“I really should emphasize, this is the part of my job that I hate,” he said.
Demolition will cost $300,000 and will be paid for through state funding awarded for the project.
Wyatt cited vandalism as a main reason for the demolition.
“Vandals like to break into the building. It’s possible for someone to harm themselves,” he said. “The university has gone through great efforts to block off the building… and it just doesn’t seem to work too well.”
A steel fence used to surround the building, but it’s since been torn down. Windows are broken and piles of brick, tile and dirt provide easy stepping-stones for students keen on exploring the abandoned structure.
This relatively easy access, paired with the building’s widely acknowledged spookiness on campus, make health risks such as asbestos-lined walls and collapsing floors a prime concern, Wyatt said.
“The best thing to do for the building is demolish it,” Wyatt said. “The unfortunate angle to it is really dollars and cents.” Wyatt cited an approximate cost of $10 million to rehabilitate the building, compared to the $300,000 for demolition.
The University had a discussion with the director of the Athens County Historical Society during the planning process of demolition. The Ridges is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site was gifted to OU in 1988.
“I do think they understand what kind of predicament the university is in,” Wyatt said. “They consider this building a piece of history and nobody likes to lose a piece of history.”
Tom O’Grady, President of the Historical Society, has expressed his concern for the University’s decision to demolish.
“This is a strategy that owners often use whereby they ignore maintenance on a building, let vandals destroy it, and then claim that the building must be destroyed because it is no longer in good shape,” the Athens County Historical Society said in a statement.
“Protecting it from vandals is the responsibility of OU,” the statement said. “There are many more reasonable approaches to protection than destroying a nationally significant structure.”
“For the amount of money the university is receiving to demolish this building, the Athens County Historical Society believes that the community would be better served to use that money to secure the building from trespassers and vandals, until a plan for restoring the building can be created,” O’Grady said.
Daniel Spencer, a weekend manager at the Kennedy Museum at the Ridges, isn’t sure what more the University could do to keep vandals out.
“That’s just a lot of time you could be using patrolling the streets, not patrolling up here,” he said.
“There are signs that say stay out, enter at your own peril,” Spencer said. “Though I’m not happy about it, as it is a historical landmark, students are known to enter.”
A student who has broken into the TB building, who wishes to remain anonymous, was disappointed to hear about the decision to demolish.
“It’s buildings like that that give Athens personality and history,” she said. “We are known as one of the most haunted cities in America because of that place.”
The student has been inside the Ward three times. She felt tightness in her chest during her second visit and noticed a slight difficulty breathing that went away after returning back outdoors.
“I later learned the walls were lined with asbestos,” she said.
“I understand it’s probably costly to fix up the building, but if the University had kept up with it over the years, it could have actually generated revenue,” the student said, emphasizing that a partially renovated Ward could be used to attract tourists around Halloween, bringing more people into the city.
The University has no plans to reconsider its decision, but the Historical Society is not backing down on their stance.
“The people of Athens care about this building and see it as representing a substantial part of our history,” the statement said. “We care about all the buildings at The Ridges and want them preserved.”