MSU opens renovated YMCA building

By: 
CHARLIE BENTON
Staff Writer

A historic building on the Mississippi State University campus is getting a new lease on life for the coming academic year.

A ribbon cutting was held Tuesday morning for the MSU YMCA Building following more than a year’s worth of renovations. The building will now house offices for the MSU College of Arts and Sciences, student affairs, general counsel, dean of students, and vice president for finance and chief financial officer. The academic offices are conveniently located near classroom space in the Old Main Academic Center. The $9.8 million renovation was funded by state bond money. Belinda Stewart Architects was the project architect and Gregory Construction was contractor.

The building was first erected starting in 1914, with work being completed the following year. Business Magnate John D. Rockefeller supported the construction with a $40,000 donation, with the remaining $20,000 raised by the student body of the university, known at the time as Mississippi A&M College. At the time, the building primarily served as a place for students to socialize and relax. However, many alumni will remember the building as the university post office.

“For so many years, the post office was located down on the ground floor,” said MSU President Mark Keenum.” That was the only reason I had any occasion to come in here (as a student). What’s interesting is, I was looking at the history of this building. In 1882, the students here at Mississippi A&M College formed a YMCA chapter. That’s only the second year that we had classes.”

Keenum said the first president of the original chapter was a student named Buzz Walker, who would later serve as the institution’s seventh president.

“This place has a lot of history, and I’m really proud of the fact that in 1985, this building became part of the Mississippi landmark buildings designated by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History,” Keenum said.

Keenum also praised Stewart for her firm’s work in keeping the building as original as possible while still adapting it to its new function.

“She’s a master at being able to renovate historic buildings, and she and her team did a wonderful job,” Keenum said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt said she hoped to see students using the building once the fall semester began.

“This is a space that students used to come to and have opportunities to get involved and to rest, relax and fellowship,” Hyatt said. “We’re excited to be back in this space where students can again come to get resources and also, hopefully rest, relax and get connected.”

Stewart discussed her approach to the project as an architect.

“The first thing really was just figuring out what was original to the building, what had been changed over time, what were the most important, character-giving elements that helped define the original design and intent of the building,” Stewart said.

She said her firm then figured out which of the pieces could be restored and which needed to be replaced or replicated to bring the building’s character back.

“We wanted to bring back some of that character, not exactly copy it,” Stewart said. “We wanted to know enough about it, so we went out doing research, finding photographs, learning about what the original character was and then figuring out how to insert the kind of needs and technology, basically the things this building would need to do to function.”

A MSU alumna herself, Stewart said she remembered the building primarily as the post office from her time at MSU.

“I remember coming to some things on this floor,” Stewart said. “I don’t remember details, but I do remember meeting with someone at one of these offices, and I remember this lobby especially.”

The building is located at 195 Lee Blvd. on campus.

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