The Fate of the Red Barn

By KATRINA TULLOCH  ([email protected])

The sign reads, “Scheduled for Demolition: October 2008,” but an inky black “9” scrawled over the “8” in Sharpie caused one prospective family visiting Allegheny to ask what’s up.  Good question.

The old Allegheny costume and set shop, known around campus as the “Red Barn,” was set for deconstruction last Fall, although the new Vukovich Center for Communication Arts was set to open this Spring.  The questions arising on campus now include why it hasn’t been torn down yet, what will replace the space in the future, and how students were allowed to work for so long in a dilapidated structure.

Director of Admissions Jennifer Winge expressed her concern about the effect of the old buildings on prospective families touring the campus.

“These structures are unsafe and an eyesore and the administration knows that,” said Winge.  “They were kept up as long as they were because construction on the Vukovich had not yet finished.  It’s time to tear them down.”

Emily Doherty, ’11, was employed in the costume shop and worked in the red barn until the department moved to the Vukovich Center.

“If [the barn] has been structurally unsound for years, my life was threatened every second I worked there,” said Doherty. “If the administration was already aware of this, they willingly put my life in danger.”

Christine Heagy, ’09, also worked in the costume shop under shabby conditions, but expressed affection for the structure.

“I worked there for three years and it was pretty awful; the heating didn’t work and periodically, it would flood.” said Heagy.  “But it’s a nostalgic thing to tear it down because it’s been here so long.  It would be great to have new student structure there but it would need a major overhaul.”

Erin Lee Caskey, ’11, believes that Allegheny is not preserving its history if the building is torn down.

“I worry about where the campus is going with our student spaces now; it’s getting less warm and inviting and more clinical and sterile,” said Caskey.  “Our campus so rich in history and we aren’t taking advantage of that.   So much character is being lost. Why are we making new spaces when we have old spaces?”

The rumor around campus that the red barn was one of many military barracks provided by the government is untrue, according to ASG President Brett Fuchs at a Student Life Committee Meeting.

“That story is a common misconception,” said Fuchs.  “Those structures did exist but they were further South on campus and have long been torn down.  The red barn was built as a temporary place for the theatre workshops. ”

But like most historic facts, debate ensues.

“The attached set shop was built as the temporary structure,” said Doherty.  “The wallpaper in the costume shop is different because it was originally used to accommodate military veterans.  It’s old but has a huge historical value and should be restored.”

Allegheny College’s historian, Jonathan E. Helmreich, chronicles these structures in his book “Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College,” published in 2005.

“The scene shop moved out of the basement of Arter Hall in 1947 to its neighboring building, and the costume and property rooms followed suit, taking advantage of old government structures formerly used as housing for veterans,” wrote Helmreich, implying the structures had already been there before the shops moved.

Larry Lee, Associate Vice President for Finance and Planning, ensures these structures are set to be torn down this summer, with no current intention to change this goal.

“We have no plan to do anything with that space except turn it into green space,” said Lee.

Student attempts to save the structure for its historical value and central location on campus were heard but declined, due to the costs, structural instability and skepticism in the need for a new student space.

“Many people, including myself, had high hopes for the The Wrecking Ball in the Pelletier Library,” said Lee. “But business there has been very slow and Parkhurst wants to remove it.  It would be too risky to build another space or vendor.”

“The beauty of the costume shop is it’s a separate space, and the Wrecking Ball is not,” says Caskey.  “Grounds for Change is wonderful but still attached to the campus center.   A free and separate student space would foster a sense of community at our college.”

Director of the Allegheny Physical Plant Ken Hanna stated that the cost of restoring or renovating the current structure far outweigh the cost of demolition.

“I estimate the cost of renovating the space into a café, student lounge, or 24 hour computer lab to be between $250,000 and $300,000,” said Hanna at the Student Life meeting. “The cost of tearing it down would be $12,000.”

“We do not need another coffee shop,” said ASG senator Sara Brown, ’09, in agreement that the use is futile.  “If people are too lazy to walk three minutes from a class to [the campus center], that blows my mind.  If we want another ‘bohemian’ space, we should have something new and attractive and not a coffee shop.”

As for a replacing the Gator Den (Allegheny’s recently demolished 24-hour computer lab in Caflisch Hall), Fuchs verified ASG’s current plan to put available computers somewhere else on campus.

“Right now, we’re looking at the West Alcove of Schultz Hall for a computer lab,” said Fuchs.

At this point, the barn’s fate has been completely decided and the student requests for a freeform space at this location will not be in the immediate master plans for the college.

“There’s no saving something that needs to be destroyed,” said Brown.

The red barn which held the old theater costume shop.
The red barn which held the old theater costume shop.