Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

Developing Tomorrow's Leaders
Mansfield: 150 Years of History

North Hall P. 5

 

Before any further steps could be taken, the building needed to be evaluated by an architect to determine if modifications could be made to support a change in weight capacity. According to Nesbitt, the weight-bearing capacity differed between a residence hall and a library. A typical library needs at least 150 pounds per square foot versus the 60 pounds per square foot required of a typical residence hall. In order to update the building there needed to be steel rods in the framework. The university got lucky. In 1985 Treby-Howard Phillips, an architectural firm from Allentown, PA surveyed the North wing and found the building structurally sound. The components needed to convert the old dormitory into a library were there. “If they had torn apart the south wing first, the building would have been torn down. So it was a pure stroke of luck,” Nesbitt said.
In 1987 Governor Robert P. Casey sent Kelchner a letter saying that the state would release $6.5 million to begin renovations on North Hall. Casey’s letter stated: “Due to the historical value of this building, it is important to the commonwealth that it is preserved and reopened for use… not only will this project enhance the academic facilities on the Mansfield University Campus, but it will also restore the building’s historical value in the community.” (The North Hall Dedication Program Oct. 26th 1996). The program also states what the three proposals were in creating the new building.
1. Combine the campus’s three libraries into North Hall.  
2. Prepare for the next century by wiring the building for exploding electronic research technology.
3. Preserve the building’s elegant 19th century heritage.  
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The $6 million that was initially allotted by the state was not enough to complete the project. Another  three to four million was needed.  Dr. Stephen Bickham, professor of philosophy at Mansfield, created the Save North Hall committee as part of a fundraising effort. “The Save North Hall Committee was a faculty, alumni, student group of Pennsylvania citizens interested in supporting the university.” Bickham explained.
 “We had no official status with the university, though they knew who we were and what we were doing. I asked one other faculty member to be on the committee with me--Howard Travis, of the Communications Department. The names of all the committee members are on a plaque just outside the main library door,” Bickham said. “What we did mostly was make telephone calls. We'd meet in my office once or twice a week and phone Harrisburg. . . . We learned our way around the bureaucracy.”
Bickham said that he, himself,  made very few of these calls. “We found that the alumni and students were much more effective than anyone else on the phone. The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS)  as well as our elected officials were charmed by the students being interested enough in this important project to make the calls.”
Eventually the project began to move. “We knew where the finish line was,” Bickham said. “That point was when the state would advertise bids for the project. It was a multi-million dollar deal, and there would be plenty of companies interested in getting the work. Once the winning bids were announced we would know we had won.”
Bickham said committee members’ work kept the project alive and, more importantly,  a sense of hope that North Hall could be saved. He also painted a picture of what the building was like before the renovation. “Gradually the building became a derelict in the middle of campus. Windows were boarded up, and the ones that weren't boarded were broken by people throwing stones. You could hear water gushing down the inside steps of the building. The building was vulnerable to fire since there were no internal fire protection or fire notification systems.” Bickham said.
Each floor had about 38 rooms. The hallways were dark and narrow. There were stories about homeless people living in North Hall and cooking pigeons to eat. . . In the early 1990’s before the renovation campus police were sent to North Hall to investigate a disturbance. The suspicious noise turned out to be from a great horned owl.
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