When Jack Salzman moved into his dorm room on the third floor of the Brayton/Clevenger wing of LaFollette in 2014, he said, his room looked like a prison cell, but he was still sad after hearing LaFollette would be demolished.
“Living in LaFollette with slightly unfavorable conditions kind of just made your experience all the more better,” Salzman said. “You kind of humbled yourself in a sense. Like, it’s not great, but it’s my freshman year, so I don’t know what’s better.”
Salzman said one of his favorite memories from LaFollette was shooting a music video with friends on his floor.
“We literally shot a music video in the study lounge and in the hallway of our dorm,” he said. “This was the tail end of freshman year, so it was the perfect way to close that chapter, literally having a goofy time with your friends, making a music video with an iPhone.”
Now, what was once the largest residence hall on campus is only operating the Brayton/Clevenger wing. Jim Lowe, associate vice president for facilities planning and management, said at full capacity, LaFollette had housed about 1,900 students.
Samantha Smith, a 2015 women’s and gender studies graduate, said she made friends easily in LaFollette with so many residents.
“There was this sense that everyone wanted to make new friendships, and a lot of people just kept their doors open, which I found very welcoming,” Smith said. “I think the building's age and upkeep mixed with the sense of ‘We're young, and we can do whatever we want here’ gave Lafollette more personality than most of the other residence halls.”
The original LaFollette demolition plan, Lowe said, was to have no students living in any wings this semester because the new North Residence Hall could house some students who would otherwise be living in LaFollette.
Because he knew more students would want single rooms during the pandemic, and isolating students would require extra rooms, Lowe said he reevaluated the teardown plan to allow the Brayton/Clevenger wing to continue housing residents.
“We changed courses a little bit somewhere around May and literally chopped it away from the rest of the building,” he said. “Then, we reattached facade to it and turned systems back on, and now it can be occupied while the rest of the building is being torn down.”
Even though his old hall is still standing, Salzman, a 2018 digital video production graduate, said he was surprised to learn LaFollette would be demolished while he was still a student.
“That was pretty sad because it made me think of all the crazy experiences from freshman year — from the nervous moving in to that music video, which was just a ball of fun,” he said. “It was weird seeing that all come together in one big nostalgia trip.”
The LaFollette demolition process began in 2013 with the renovation of the Johnson residence halls to slowly replace LaFollette’s 1,900-bed capacity.
With the Johnson complexes and the two new residence halls each having between 500 and 600 beds, Lowe said the residence halls on the north side of campus will have a 2,200-bed capacity by fall 2021, when New Residence Hall 2 is expected to open.
To make room for North Residence Hall and North Dining, demolition of LaFollette’s Woody/Shales and Mysch/Hurst wings began in summer 2017.
After the southwest wings were torn down, the second phase of demolition tackled the Shively and Knotts/Edwards halls, which Lowe said he wanted completely demolished before the fall 2020 semester began.
“They started with the wings that protrude out from the building,” he said. “We did that because it’s so close to McKinley, we wanted to get the larger, closest-to-the-street demolition completed before the students came back.”
The demolition of the larger wings left massive piles of rubble behind the fence, most of which will be recycled, Lowe said.
The iron rods that reinforced LaFollette’s concrete foundation will be recycled as scrap metal, and the concrete rubble will be smashed into smaller pieces and used to refill holes in the ground.
The demolition company Renescent has been working on LaFollette since 2017, demolishing the wings floor by floor with mini excavators and hammers. Rick Hall, Renascent senior project manager, said the construction team will use a mobile crushing plant to grind the concrete into a size that can be used as backfill for the LaFollette basements.
“We’ll reuse [the concrete debris] from the demolition as lower backfill for the demolition void of the basements and import about one to four feet of soil to cap crushed concrete with for planting and future development,” he said.
Much of LaFollette’s furniture was also recycled as part of the preparation for demolition, Lowe said. The furniture that was still usable was taken to other dorms on campus where it was needed, while furniture deemed not worth keeping was crushed into chipboard and recycled by Renescent.
“It’s almost original furniture except for the mattresses,” Lowe said. “The process started with taking the furniture, and then it moves into recycling all the concrete, the brick and the rebar that’s in the building.”
John Johnston, who lived in LaFollette from 1988-91, said the furniture looked the same when he moved his daughter into Brayton hall in 2018.
“It was amazing how the furniture was the same, the big block walls and all that,” he said. “Even back then, it was considered one of the older dorms. There were some new ones going up, so it wasn’t the top-of-the-line, preferred dorm, but it was fine.”
Lowe said the demolition, besides Brayton/Clevenger hall, will be completed by Thanksgiving. Brayton/Clevenger will also be torn down, likely within the next two years, he said.
After the demolition, the construction team will fill in holes from the building footprint and plant grass.
“So, when you come back here next spring, you will see a field that looks like this,” Lowe said, gesturing to the grass in front of Worthen Arena.
He envisions the LaFollette field to be a gathering space for students living in Johnson and North Residence Hall as well as visitors of North Dining.
“Over time, into next spring and next summer, we’re going to create certain sidewalks and bicycle paths and reestablish some kind of connection to the outdoor plaza for the North Dining,” he said. “This will become a place where students, faculty and staff can come out, and sit and enjoy the day.”