Staff Photo by Danielle Moore/Chattanooga Times Free Press Students, faculty and community members watch as the demolition of Hughes Hall, erected in 1968, begins Friday afternoon on the Lee University campus in Cleveland, Tenn. The male dorm was occupied with students until last Thursday, a day after final exams.
CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Lee University students in Hughes Hall knew their dorm was falling apart, so watching the walls finally fold into rubble came as no surprise.
"It was pretty structurally unsafe," former resident Ben Johns said. "There were cracks in the walls (so) we could slip notes to the person in the next room and we could see what they were doing."
In all, about 250 people gathered Friday to watch the 42-year-old, three-story residence hall get ripped apart.
University President Paul Conn said that Hughes was the first dorm that Lee has voluntarily destroyed.
"It was built quite cheaply," he said. "It was thought that it would be good for about 30 years at the time, so it's actually survived 10 years past its time."
The land occupied by Hughes will become part of a larger green space, Dr. Conn said.
"Great campuses aren't created just by beautiful buildings, but by space between the buildings," he said.
Drivers piloted two excavators that tore off the roof, punched in each floor and let the levels crash down on each other, said Cole Strong, Lee's construction liaison. The clean-up will take about a week, he said.
"It's pretty cool to see just because I'm a guy," Mr. Johns said. "I like to see things breaking and falling."
Science professor Ronald Harris said he began teaching at Lee in 1966, a year before construction began on the hall.
"I remember being in the science building, which is where I taught, and watching them build Hughes Hall," he said. "I hate to see it go, but you have to make progress."
The hall's last resident director, Brandon Brooks, said one of his favorite memories was watching the residents create a water slide down a first-floor hallway.
In the building's final days, he said, he let the students tunnel through one of the dorm room walls in an effort to keep them from tearing the building apart in an adrenaline-fueled desire for destruction.
Current Hughes residents will live in Atkins-Ellis Hall next fall, Dr. Conn said, adding that the women who lived in Atkins-Ellis will be placed in new townhouses the university is building over the summer.
With Hughes out of the way, Medlin Hall is now the last remaining old-fashioned male dorm on campus, Dr. Conn said. Despite a construction date about 40 years before Hughes, the president said the historic hall is an unlikely candidate for demolition.
"Medlin was sanctified by the fact that Billy Graham once lived there," he said. "So we would touch it only with great care."
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Harrison Keely is an online breaking news producer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He also anchors the daily newscast. He joined the Times Free Press as a reporter in 2010. He previously served as managing editor of the Smoky Mountain Sentinel in western North Carolina and as a business reporter for the Washington Times in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Lee University in 2009 where he served as managing editor of the student news ...