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Campus Life

Harrelson Hall: Reclaimed

Harrelson Hall, opened in 1962, will be deconstructed over the next year, with 90 percent of nonhazardous waste being recycled.

After more than a half century of standing as a round peg in the square hole of NC State’s University Plaza, Harrelson Hall is finally being sent to the circular file.

Over the coming year much of the building will be rolled up, recycled and reused before the final skeleton is ultimately removed next summer.

Harrelson's inner hallways.
Harrelson’s inner hallways.

“We’re aiming for 90 percent diversion of nonhazardous materials through recycling and reuse efforts,” says Steve Bostian, a project manager for NC State’s Capital Project Management.

Deconstruction (not demolition) already has begun at the first round classroom building ever tried on a college campus. Much of the reusable materials—desks, chalkboards, whiteboards, doors, security cameras and some electric metering and fire protection equipment—has been removed and will be used elsewhere on campus or donated to Habitat for Humanity.

All other nonhazardous building material will be taken to a facility that specializes in construction and demolition waste, where it will be crushed or otherwise turned into reusable materials.

“[They] are sorted and sent to various markets for reuse and recycling,” says Liz Bowen, a university program coordinator specializing in sustainable buildings. “For example, the concrete blocks making up Harrelson’s structure can be crushed and reused as roadbed.”

That would be perfect for a traffic circle.

Construction of Harrelson's inner core. Photo by Ralph Mills.
Construction of Harrelson’s inner core. Photo by Ralph Mills.

For some, it may be a sad farewell to the building named after Col. John Harrelson, NC State’s fifth executive officer, first chancellor and first alumnus to lead the school.

The visually appealing building, designed by lead architect Ralph Reeves, opened in November 1961 with 109,000 square feet of classroom space. At the time, it was hailed as being both “strikingly attractive” and “extremely functional.”

It didn’t take long, however, before the building became roundly criticized.

By 1972, the history department’s annual report described Harrelson as “one of the most unsatisfactory academic buildings imaginable.” Low-hanging ceilings, pie-shaped classrooms, confusing corridors and an interior ramp that tractor-beamed skateboarders and grocery-cart racers eventually made it one of the least-loved buildings on campus.

One of Harrelson's pie-shaped classrooms.
One of Harrelson’s pie-shaped classrooms.

In 1983, the interior doors and outdoor benches were little more than kindling for four consecutive weeks of bonfires in celebration of the men’s basketball team’s march to the ACC and NCAA championships, events from which the Brickyard and Harrelson never fully recovered.

By the 1990s, the building that opened with such great fanfare was facing an uphill struggle to be accepted around campus. After two feasibility reports concluded the building could not be successfully renovated and updated, the NC State Board of Trustees decided in 2003 that the building would eventually be removed.

After years of use primarily for classes, Harrelson became the temporary home for the university bookstore and student activities offices during the renovation of the Talley Student Union. Those organizations relocated back in Talley in June, kicking off the deconstruction of Harrelson.

After deconstruction the footprint of the building will be landscaped into green space and footpaths, which will improve stormwater management in the area. The signature Science Commons classroom building is on the university’s list of potential capital projects. It will be located on the southern edge of the Brickyard and serve as a space for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Current plans are for a rectangular building.