O’Bryant African American Institute set for demolition

O’Bryant African American Institute set for demolition

To Will Reese, the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute (AAI) is primarily comprised of a group of people, but it is inherently linked to the building at 50 Leon St. that houses it. The junior history and political science double major is president of the Northeastern University Black Student Association, one of about 15 student groups that uses the O’Bryant Center, better known to many as “the tute.”

“The building is a great learning tool for a lot of people,” Reese said. “It has its own library. It’s just a great resource that could benefit a lot of people.”

For the past year, the shadow of a new building, West Village F, has been looming over the center more and more.

Come fall, the AAI will be relocated into a section in the new building, and the facility Reese feels such a connection with will no longer exist. In fact, it could be gone as early as next week, university officials said.

The AAI has moved to the first floor of Willis Hall for the summer, and construction crews are currently removing the last asbestos from the institute, university officials said.

For those, like Reese, who felt connected to the building, the transition is met with mixed emotions.

“It was a free-standing building,” said Devin Phillip, a junior African-American studies and music industry major. “Making us move into a building with classrooms and honors housing … it’s not ours anymore. We won’t have our own building, as opposed to all the other cultural centers, like Hillel, the Latin American Cultural Center, etc. Everybody not connected to the Institute said ‘You’re getting a good deal with Building F.’ I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon and say it’s a good deal yet.”

Phillip’s reservations are bound up in a long period of wrangling between the administration and students at the AAI about how much space the AAI should be allowed, and when the building would be knocked down.

The university, led by President Richard Freeland’s call for the construction of West Village F to finish west campus, was in favor of relocating the institute when it seemed to be blocking the way for the building.

Members of the institute wanted the AAI to remain in its own building, a former laundry facility that was renovated to become the current building around 1971.

When the plans for Building F to include relocating the AAI were announced in 2001, students immediately responded with protests.

In one instance, both sides of Huntington Avenue were filled for a 100-yard stretch, according to News reports at the time.

But the plans went forward, and though the demolition of the AAI was delayed until just before the $48 million West Village F opens this fall, it will reach its inevitable conclusion within the next two weeks.

“[The] old building served the institute well for a number of years,” said Fred McGrail, director of communications. “The new space will even better fit the needs of the programming.”

Betre Gizaw, a junior political science major who leads the activist group Brothers About Change, said the need for transition was obvious.

“The institute as it was… the physical structure was in need of a lot of improvements. There was no elevator; technically speaking it was out of date and the architecture wasn’t very attractive,” he said. “In those ways Building F is good.”

Gizaw also questioned whether the university’s decision had an underlying message.

“There’s a lot of symbolic meaning of taking down a historically significant building,” he said. “Taking down that building and replacing it with grass says something about the importance of black students on campus.”

In the science of waste removal, where there is no symbolism, the demolition has a more rejuvenating prospect: According to Peter Lembo, director of solid waste removal and recycling on campus, about 80 to 85 percent of the building will be recycled.

The prospect showcases the new trend of recycling, he said, which includes removing all possible objects from the building – including carpeting and lighting fixtures, among other items – before demolition.

“In the old days you brought in a big ball and knocked it down,” he said. “Now you’re going to find buildings coming down from the inside out.”

Leave a Reply