Associate Opinion Editor
Central Pennsylvania is well known for its rich history, exemplified by our landmarks and structures that have been preserved through time, such as former school buildings, classrooms, homes, and other beautiful nods to our past. As one walks past the former banks, schools, and parks in the towns and cities we know and love, it may be easy to forget how much has truly happened there. When these buildings are left empty, they are often forgotten by the always rushing eyes of humans, breaking down and welcoming nature into their walls until the Earth finally reclaims them.
An example of this that reaches especially close to home is our college campus. Beautifully laid out and spacious, Millersville offers a variety of sights in terms of architectural and natural beauty. However, three buildings – Chryst, Brooks, and Bard Hall – sit seemingly abandoned, with students and alumni questioning the fate of their home away from home. Unlike William Penn High School, the previous site we visited, whose future remains vague, these buildings have a brighter glimmer of hope. Members of the Snapper staff were granted exclusive access to these facilities, taken on a guided tour by Thomas Waltz, Assistant Vice President of facilities management, and accompanied by the university’s communications director, Janet Kacskos.
The first stop on our tour is one of the most recent buildings on campus to undergo major renovations. Constructed in the 1960s, this brick building, located next to Health Services on George Street, was the original home of the University Bookstore, before relocating once the Student Memorial Center was expanded. Afterward, the building was repurposed into classrooms and offices, housing the writing studies program within the English department. One of two writing centers on campus was also located at Chryst, until 2017 when the writing center consolidated into one location at the McNairy Library. This past Summer, Chryst Hall was closed to the public for renovation. It now sits in wait, hoping to one day welcome students and staff into its halls once more.
Despite not actively being in use, the building still uses heat and electricity and is still furnished, sitting there as if nobody ever left. Chairs, desks, and tables remain in classrooms, with offices and a lecture hall still intact. Staircases are painted with titles and images of classic literature, reflecting the passion of students who once pursued their education there. A packaged Keurig coffee maker, never opened, sits on a counter in the first-floor lounge, where students and staff could congregate to study and chat. Despite the bleak emptiness of the building, there is still hope for a future for Chryst Hall.
“Once we update and add some finishing touches to the building, it will be used as practice and learning space by the music program,” Waltz says, “as one of the fastest-growing programs here, they need a place where they can easily set up and practice, while also having classes nearby.”
The Winter Center is currently the only music building on campus. When Chryst Hall reopens, music students will have a great practice and classroom space much closer to the heart of campus.
The next stop on campus is one of the oldest on Millersville’s campus. Built in 1938, Brooks Hall became the new gymnasium once the school outgrew the much smaller facility now known as Dutcher Hall. Since then, Brooks has witnessed many practices, games, and memories, holding much sentimental value to the Marauder community for nearly a century. Throughout the past decade, the building has been phased out, with athletes transitioning to full-time use of Pucillo Gymnasium, located at the opposite end of campus. After closing in 2017, Brooks was initially slated to be demolished, but thanks to efforts from faculty and alumni, the building has been saved, with plans to be repurposed as the new Lombardo College of Business. Yet, it remains empty, sitting alone on a hill awaiting its salvation.
The main gym, once used by the basketball, baseball, and track teams, is now used for storage space. Dance studios and offices sit vacant, with last words scribbled on the blackboard. The old swimming pool is now drained and the locker rooms are perhaps the eeriest sight to see. Some lockers still have locks on them, with the items trapped inside gathering dust. On the front side of the building, if you go down a hidden staircase leading to the maintenance room before the door is a mural of graffiti, complete with Snoopy sitting on top of his famous red dog house.
When asked about plans for the historic building, Waltz commented, “Hopefully, by the beginning of the calendar year, we will begin design and remodeling. The arch windows and gym floor will be preserved, and we intend to potentially split the gym into two floors for classroom use.”
He added, “the greatest challenge of all, however, is the pool. There are certainly leveling issues, along with finding a use for it when it becomes a classroom building. Despite that, there is much potential here for this building, and we intend to preserve it as much as possible.”
The third and last building we explored was one that, while seemingly insignificant, has an extensive history. Constructed in 1960, Bard initially served as a men’s dormitory, and later as a co-ed residence hall primarily housing freshmen. Currently, the building is reserved as a last resort for covid-positive students if they are unable to go home for quarantine, while a section of the first floor is being used as a Head Start program.
Although identical to the adjacent Lehigh Hall, this particular building has a rather dark chapter in its past – a second-floor dorm room was the site of the 2015 murder of student Karlie Hall, the first and only homicide in the university’s history. This in turn provides additional challenges to the construction and facilities management teams; not only will they have to convert Bard and Lehigh halls into productive use for the community, but also in a way that respects the tragedy that took place there.
“We are still going by the master plan,” says Waltz, “this will call for both Bard and Lehigh Hall to be converted to administrative use. Everything of course will be updated to code, and we will have to make it more accessible. This will possibly include connecting the two buildings and inserting an elevator there.”
Waltz comments further, “Think of the broken window syndrome – we get a broken window in Brooks, for instance, we are going to fix it, because if we have one window and ignore it, then there will be two, then three, then four. If we don’t care or start doing something about it, then it will escalate to graffiti in more visible locations and will make students feel unsafe or unwelcome, or even drive them away from the school.”
This will indeed be no easy task for the team, but Waltz expresses confidence that they will make it work, and every step counts toward making the campus better for the community.
Embarking on such an enriching tour of some of the buildings on our college campus was truly a privilege; not only did staff members get a glimpse at some of Millersville’s history, but we were also able to look on into its future. As students walk across the picturesque lawns, the quaint pond, and the bustling streets, they often ignore the value of the buildings where they learn and work. The university has a long and tumultuous past, one that is reminiscent of each of the buildings we explored. More than us do the halls wait in anticipation, hoping to be put into use once again. There is much work to do, but in that work is also determination and hope.
This is one in a series of articles featuring the abandoned buildings and sites of central Pennsylvania. To learn more, check out the Snapper website or keep an eye out for future “History Rotting Away” articles in the Feature section of our print editions.