Western Herald – Community, students plan for their next move in response to planned East Campus demolitions
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Community, students plan for their next move in response to planned East Campus demolitions

Ted Yoakum
News Reporter

Like so many of his fellow Broncos, past and present, Rodger Parzyck was enamored with East Campus the moment he laid eyes upon it.

Members of Students for East Campus and other members ofthe community gathered inside East Hall to discuss the futureof East Campus. Ted Yoakum/Western Herald

Parzyck attended the university during the ’70s, when most of the buildings on Prospect Hill were still used by students. The local business owner lived in Walwood Hall, back when the building was still used as dormitory for students.

“Speech and Path was still [on East Campus], the library was still in there, they were still holding classes in East Hall,” Parzyck said. “It was a wonderful area up there. People loved going to class there.”

Due to that passion, Parzyck’s voice is among the outcry against the university’s redevelopment plans, which officials announced last month shortly before the end of fall semester. The local business owner is part local movement which is opposing the school’s plans to demolish North Hall, West Hall and the Speech and Hearing Center as part of initiative to renovate East Hall into an alumni center.

“Those buildings are, architecturally, the heart and soul of Western’s campus,” Parzyck said. “They’re better than anything new that Western has on its other campuses, and they will far outlast any other buildings, even in their current condition.”

The school’s plans, which are still in the formative stages, call for the space taken by the structures surrounding East Hall to be replaced by green space and parking. Officials with the university plan to borrow $15 million to fund the entire renovation project.

Since taking office in 2007, WMU President John Dunn, along with other administrators, sought to find a way to restore the century-old structures, which would cost an estimated $95 million to do. Last year, WMU entered into an agreement with a private real estate firm to turn East Hall into a boutique hotel, before funding for the project fell through.

While Dunn and other university officials said sparing East Hall at the expense of its cousins was the only move that made financial sense, many area preservationists, including Parzyck, remain skeptical of the leadership’s plan of action.

“Other colleges are building or restoring buildings that look historical because they realize that’s what people want,” Parzyck said.

In response to the planned demolition, Parzyck penned a petition asking university leadership to consider an alternative renovation solution that would preserve the buildings slotted for tear down, placing the document outside of his antique store, The Heritage Company. As of last week, the petition has received around 200 signatures from store patrons, many of whom Parzyck said he’s spoken to about the issue.

“Everybody just thinks it ridiculous what Western’s doing, everybody,” Parzyck said. “I think they are people who are support of the alumni center, but that doesn’t mean they support the demolition of everything else.”

Instead of demolishing these structures, Parzyck said the university should consider reaching out to the community to help restore the entirety of the buildings residing on Prospect Hill.

“I think they are alumni who would donate money for the restoration of East Campus, and I think there are people who will not donate to Western any longer if they proceed with the demolition,” he said.

In order to increase the visibility of the document, the preservationist has created an online version of his petition, which he posted last week on Change.org.

Parzyck has devoted much of his time and attention toward the preservation of the university’s birthplace, serving on the Kalamazoo Historic District Commission for 20 years. During his membership, East Campus was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, joining East Hall, which was placed on the list in 1978.

“The criticism we get sometimes is that people ask why are we speaking up now,” Parzyck said. “It’s because we’ve been speaking up for years.”

WMU students have also began mobilizing over the fate of East Campus. The group held their first meeting of the semester Saturday inside East Hall, where the topic of planned razing dominated discussion.

Their first priority is to reach out the administration, said Nicholas Wikar, the current head of SEC.

“It would be advantageous for us to pursue a seat at the table,” he said. “We want to hear things from the school first hand.”

Wikar said he is open to discussing the subject with university leadership, especially since Bob Miller, the WMU vice president of community outreach, notified Wikar of the school’s intent before the administration made their formal announcement to the greater public.

“[SEC] has never heard from the school like this before,” Wikar said. “I saw it as a sign of mutual respect.”

While the organization is keeping its options open, many of its members stated they would prefer preservation of the entire campus over settling for a renovated East Hall.

“I would love to see this as an active campus again,” said Kyle Martin, a member of SEC. “These buildings are what students think of when they think of Western.”

Also at the meeting was David Brose, the chairperson of Friends of Historical East Campus, another advocacy group comprised of local community members. The organization is currently in the process of creating an open letter to the WMU Board of Trustees, requesting an immediate halt to the planned demolition.

Instead, the school should look into mothballing the buildings, making the necessary improvements to the structures to keep them on ice until it becomes financially feasible for a full resurrection, Brose said.

“The ability to rehabilitate those buildings doesn’t require the demolition of other buildings,” he said. “The school could maintain these buildings another 20 years for the cost it would take to demolish them.”

The organization will hold its monthly meeting later this week, on Friday, in the Emeriti Lounge inside Walwood Hall. SEC will hold its next meeting on Jan. 26.

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