Wilson Hall, a 95-year-old building and former residence hall, will be demolished and replaced with green space this summer.
Located on East Quad next to Cook Field, the ex-sanatorium for women with “mild mental and emotional disorders” has not housed students since the 2015-16 school year, said Rob Schorman, professor of history, humanities and creative arts.
Wilson Hall, originally named “The Pines,” was an annex of The Oxford Retreat private hospital. It was leased to Miami in 1936 as a women’s residence hall. In 1986, it was renamed after Dr. Charles Wilson, a former Miami provost.
The hall has a history of alleged hauntings.
“I heard that if you left your shoes out in the hall, Dr. Cook would polish them overnight,” said Robert Bell, Miami’s interim university architect. “I’ve also heard stories about past patients haunting the hall, because supposedly many patients were sent there against their will.”
Despite this storied history, there is no need for halls that can house only 71 students when there are newer four-story halls such as Presidents and Withrow, Schorman said.
The plan for demolition began in 2010 when the Planning, Engineering and Architecture subdivision of the Physical Facilities Department assessed all 41 residence halls. Wilson was deemed “higher risk” and “less adaptable to modern standards and generally in poor condition,” Bell said. These factors make a renovation costly.
Like many buildings constructed in the early 1900s, Wilson uses balloon-framing, meaning a foundation made of long wooden pillars. This is a fire hazard, as flames can spread rapidly from the bottom of the wood to the top, engulfing entire buildings.
The Campus Planning Committee approved demolition in February 2019. Molly O’Donnell, an undergraduate member of the committee, said there were no plans for renovation.
Typically, demolitions are not publicized widely.
“Buildings are torn down over the summer, and there’s little public knowledge about it until you show up next [school] year and they’re gone,” Charles Kennick, another undergraduate committee member, said.
Both students said there is an underlying problem with demolishing old buildings.
“Miami was built in 1809, but you walk around campus and see many buildings that are a century old at most,” O’Donnell said. “For a university with a history of being a public ivy, it seems to me we’ve torn down most of our historic buildings.”
Though buildings such as Wells Hall and Alumni Hall are both around 100 years old, others, such as those in Central Quad, were constructed in the 1950s.
O’Donnell said she wants to see more renovations of old buildings on campus.
“Reconfiguration and restoration is expensive, but you see it all the time,” she said, citing warehouses made into lofts in cities and Armstrong Student Center on Miami’s campus as examples.
Kennick said the building plan for the university campus could alienate Alumni connections.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for Miami to see their alumni come back and feel [at home] because the campus is so different,” Kennick said.
Last summer, Swing Hall on North Quad was demolished after housing its last cohort in the 2017-18 school year. Mary Lyon Hall on Western was demolished at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Both buildings housed Miami students for nearly a century.
“Having historic buildings is important,” O’Donnell said. “It’s not just the fact that [each] new building is made out of brick; it adds something in addition to the uniformity of the architecture across campus.”