Denison Hall’s mark on campus indelible

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The view from Anderson Hall toward Hale Library is unobstructed today, allowing for individuals passing through the Coffman Commons to enjoy the stately appearance of the library. Green space abounds in all directions and numerous walkways allow for easy passage to any of the buildings, which surrounds the Coffman Commons.

But this has not always been the case.

As recently as almost five years ago, the landscape of this part of campus featured another building, Denison Hall. The building named after K-State’s first president, Joseph Denison, was constructed in 1960 and was situated in front of Farrell – now Hale – Library. Many smaller classrooms and one large lecture hall were encompassed by the traditional steel and limestone structure, characteristic of many of K-State’s buildings. Until its demise in 2004, the “no frills” facility also housed the Department of English.

Through 43 years of use, many students and faculty members had different experiences within its walls. Karin Westman, associate professor and department head of English, joined the department in 2000. She said the behavior of faculty members demonstrated the volatile nature of the building.

“Faculty were extraordinarily wary of leaving things in their offices because people’s personal libraries had been ruined,” she said. “We lost a number of department copies of master’s projects, and possibly dissertations when we had a Ph.D. program a number of years ago, to mold because of the poor climate control and the poor ventilation system in the building.”

Those problems were a subset of issues that plagued occupants of Denison throughout its time on the K-State campus.

According to a variety of news sources, ceilings collapsed because of rainwater and leaking pipes. Malfunctioning heating and cooling units pushed temperatures to extremes. A lack of ventilation and the presence of asbestos also caused considerable issues.

An editorial in the July 18, 1996 issue of the Collegian concluded that, “For a relatively new building, Denison is surprisingly expendable.” Campus aesthetics, the cost of making the building handicapped accessible and the issue of bringing the English Department into one building were cited as reasons the university should move away from using Denison in a 1997 letter to the editor in the Collegian.

Tony Crawford, university archivist, said once construction on the library was completed, the pendulum swung in favor of Denison’s destruction.

“Given that the library became a showcase for the campus, the beautiful new building and Denison being there yards from it did not make it a very attractive campus setting,” he said.

Debates surrounding Denison and its seemingly eminent demise continued for several years after. In 2003, space finally opened on campus for the English Department and to accommodate several different classrooms. Lafene Health Center moved off campus to its current location in the former Mercy Regional Health Center. Lafene’s former site became open, with the English Department set to occupy the entire building.

The department officially moved out of Denison Hall during the 2003-04 winter break. Denison remained unoccupied until it was razed in summer 2004.

Charles Sanders, associate professor of history, taught four classes in Denison Hall and said he appreciated the challenges the building presented.

“The challenge in Denison was trying to keep the lectures personal for all the students,” he said. “So I would walk up the aisles, so that way I could look directly at students. But you had to be careful because if you get caught way up there at the top [of the lecture hall] and you weren’t sure what slide was coming up next [in a presentation], it was a long walk down to the bottom.”

Today, Counseling Services still occupies the second floor of the former Lafene site. Westman said Counseling Services was unable to complete its move to another building because of budget issues. Meanwhile, the English Department remains divided between three buildings.

The lawn where Denison once sat now is green space as part of the Coffman Commons. The commons are south of the library and a tribute to former Provost James Coffman.

Sanders said he sees positive technological side effects in the demise of Denison Hall.

“When Denison went dow,n I can say now that every single large classroom that I have taught in is digitally capable and that is a plus,” he said. “It does show a trend at KSU and that trend is positive toward funding and resourcing the technologies that enhance the experience for our students.”

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