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Hampden-Sydney addresses opposition to Bagby Hall removal

Work is underway on Hampden-Sydney College’s (H-SC) campus to create the new, state-of-the-art Pauley Science Center. The work at this early stage involves the removal of historic Bagby Hall, an action which has drawn opposition from some alumni.

A public Facebook group called “Save Bagby Hall” was created April 15. As of Monday afternoon, April 27, the group had 683 members.

H-SC Director of Communications and Marketing Gordon Neal noted Bagby Hall was built in 1922 and was the college’s original science facility.

“It has hosted classes in many disciplines over the years, including — in recent years — modern languages, psychology, and mathematics and computer science,” he said. “Space in the building has also housed various offices at different times, including the career center and the office of global education and study abroad.”

H-SC announced in September 2019 it had received the largest gift in its history, $30 million, from Stanley F. Pauley via The Pauley Family Foundation. College officials said the money would support the construction of the Pauley Science Center.

The center was highlighted in the cover feature story of the fall 2019 edition of The Record, H-SC’s official alumni magazine. At the end of the story, there was a sidebar offering a project overview with the key news that the center would be built on the northwest corner of College Road and Via Sacra.

“The project’s scope necessitates the removal of the aging Bagby Hall, the college’s first science facility, which would have required substantial restoration to remain operational beyond the immediate future,” the overview stated.

In the Facebook group focused on saving Bagby Hall, alumni and some current H-SC students have shared memories connected to the building, expressed complaints about the campus losing its unique appeal, conveyed alternative locations for the new science center and discussed reasons why the building should or need not be preserved.

One of the alumni passionately opposed to the building’s removal is Jay Gaul, part of Hampden-Sydney’s Class of 2005. He noted Bagby Hall is a physical link between Hampden-Sydney’s past and the present.

“The permanence of Hampden-Sydney’s stately buildings has always been a visible sign of the college’s commitment to its history. Students, faculty and administrations come and go, but these beautiful old buildings remain across centuries, and they instruct and form us in ways that nothing new ever can,” he said. “I would like to see the architectural heritage of the Hampden-Sydney I knew conveyed to the next generation of students, because it is an integral part of our college’s culture.”

In a Monday, April 27, statement, H-SC President Dr. Larry Stimpert said the passion of the college’s alumni is one of Hampden-Sydney’s greatest strengths, and the history of the college was one of the primary characteristics that drew him to Hampden-Sydney.

“Many alumni have reached out to me to discuss the Pauley Science Center project, and I’m always pleased to share my excitement about the project’s many wonderful elements, from the opportunities the Pauley Science Center will provide our students to the restoration of a historic sightline between Venable and Cushing Hall that was an intentional campus design element dating back to the early 19th century,” Stimpert said. “I understand that some have concerns about elements of the project, and I encourage them to reach out to me, too, so that I can answer any questions they may have. While no decision pleases every single person, I understand and respect the passion of those who are so committed to Bagby.”

Stimpert said he assures those individuals that the decision was made following a time-intensive, thorough exploration of options — and with the college’s best interests in mind.

“We are very confident that the Pauley Science Center will strengthen our science program and transform the learning and research opportunities available to our students and that its addition to our campus will position Hampden-Sydney well for another 245 years of forming good men and good citizens,” he said.

He also noted that the feedback the college has received about the project over the last seven months has been overwhelmingly positive.

Bob Pullum, who has been credited with forming the “Save Bagby Hall” Facebook group, has posted in the group about how the conflict over the building has highlighted the need for better communication between the college’s administration and its alumni.

His recent posts indicate that some of that communication is taking place. He wrote Saturday, April 25, that Stimpert has given him a window of time to gather input from the group’s members on the current design of the new Pauley Science Center.