Reis Hall on standby as college focuses elsewhere

Library-turned-admin office stood mostly vacant during Bentley construction



Reis Hall not long after completion in 1902, when the building was called, “The Library.” The structure then consisted only of the south half of the building; the rest was added in 1931

At the east end of Brooks Walk opposite Ruter Hall stands Reis Hall. When first built in 1902 to house the college’s library, the structure consisted only of the distinctive octagonal rotunda at the south end of the building, with the rectangular north end added in a 1931 expansion.

“It’s just a beautiful old building that I think represents the long legacy of learnedness that the college has, and devotion to books as artifacts and vessels of thought,” said Matthew Ferrence, department chair and associate professor of English.

Once the newer Lawrence Lee Pelletier Library was completed in 1976, Reis was converted into administrative offices, and housed the college’s counseling center, registrar and informational services, among other departments.

When the renovations on Bentley Hall began in the fall of 2018, Reis was also vacated, and has stood mostly quiet since.

“The only activity in (Reis) was that it was a meeting space for the team working on Bentley,” Linda Wetsell, chief financial officer, said. “We did take advantage of it recently with our pop up pub, ‘The Sycamore.’”

“The Sycamore,” which debuted on Sept. 17, served food, beverages and live music to students, faculty and administrators. It was the first time the hall was open to the greater campus community since the building was vacated in the fall of 2018, and will return on Oct. 21.

“We came up with the idea of a pop up pub,” Wetsell said. “It was unused space; students have been asking, ‘what about Reis?’ So we just married all those ideas and came up with a pop up pub, and we hope to do it again soon.”

Ferrence, for one, is glad “The Sycamore” landed in Reis.

“I don’t think the plans are to have ‘The Sycamore’ in an academic building, once it’s being used,” Ferrence said. “I think that has different issues; someone’s having a libation, and there’s a class next door. But I really actually love that this pop up (has) used unutilized space as a literal and figurative way to welcome the community back together.”

One of the key obstacles to using the building more permanently is the building itself, which right now suffers from severe structural problems.

“There’s multiple issues in there right now between proper heating, range back, ventilation and   (its lack of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance),” said Joe Michaels, director of physical plant. “The goal is to keep it mothballed, seal up the envelope and make sure no damage occurs through Mother Nature. You’ll see some patch repairs on the roof — we have a drainage issue that we need to address. As we move forward with whatever the plan ends up being, we need to be ready to execute and not let the buildings deteriorate past that point.”

Beyond regular maintenance for the facility, Michael noted that preliminary pre-pandemic surveys adjusted not only the building’s infrastructure, but its floor plan as well.

“Those designs actually recommend shifting the heights of floors and ceilings and some additional work,” Michael said. “It still goes back to knowing what the requirement for the building is and what funds are available.”

However, the college has placed the renovation of Reis Hall as a high priority in its 2018 Campus Master Plan, a fact that excites Ferrence.

“It’s centrally located right in the hub of campus,” Ferrence said. “It can be a spot where lots of programs come together, lots of students come together to celebrate — that’s a dorky way of putting it — to do what we do best, which is build an intellectual community together.”

The plan also recommends decommissioning Oddfellows Hall, the home of the English department, as a long-term project. Ferrence noted that, particularly due to the pandemic, there has not been much traffic through the building.

“(Oddfellows has) been offline for a couple of years, and we don’t have opportunities to just see a student or see a colleague from a different department milling around in the space where intellectual things happen,” Ferrence said. “I think Reis Hall can be one of the models for that on campus”

Ferrence was also open to the idea of having a mixed space of not just students and professors, but also administrators.

“Every time I’ve ever had a conversation about space utilization on campus, there’s always a discussion of, ‘how do we make it so students want to be there and will be there?’” Ferrence said. “I think that having that kind of mixed use space creates more momentum for a population to be constantly present and I don’t think there’s any downside to it. So I hope that this is part of the future, whenever that future comes.”

Wetsell echoed that sentiment, saying that the college, “would like to invest and restore (Reis) to its grandeur.”

Wetsell said that the college hoped the hall would serve academic needs, though revamping the space so that the building can house permanent occupants would take money the college does not have right now.

“To move forward with that we would need some type of funding,” Wetsell said. “Funding for most of our big projects like that come from three sources: a bond issuance, operating budget, or donors, or a combination of those, and we don’t have anything earmarked for that building at this time.”

Regardless, Ferrence is excited for the doors of the building to be open again.

“It represents the history of books,” Ferrence said. “As a book person in the English department, having that old library back as an academic space is a signal about how the college continues to value the humanities, and continues to value books and book (learning).”