Loss of Bryce makes loss of University historyBy Mary Catherine Connors | 02/04/2015 2:09am
Positioned at the corner of Shelby Quad and the Student Recreation Center, Bryce Hospital is emblematic of Tuscaloosa’s history, The University of Alabama’s history and America’s progression in caring for the mentally ill. The hospital was founded in 1861 and was bought by the University in 2010 for close to $90 million, according to the Tuscaloosa News.
Despite the hospital’s rich cultural history, demolition on the outer wings and various smaller buildings started last week. Construction workers and bulldozers have left a large gash in the right side of the building. Though the University has been planning the demolition for some time now, it’s almost startling to see such a large testament to history being wholly disregarded.
The University plans to erect in its place new classroom buildings and a performing arts center, which will be somehow connected to the main hospital after construction is complete. While the rotunda on the main building will remain intact, many people are saddened by the choice of university officials.
A performing arts center is certainly welcomed and probably needed on campus, but to rip apart a chapter in Alabama’s history is counterproductive. When the University bought the building four years ago, it had the power to choose the fate of the hospital.
A complete or even partial renovation would have been hugely expensive, but there were many other options. A renovation could have been pushed down the calendar until funding was raised, or the building could have been left standing as it has been for more than 150 years.
We will always need new classroom buildings. Older lecture halls will need restoring. More dining halls will need to be installed to keep up with a growing student population. And more parking lots will be required for easier access to all of these new buildings. But there will never be another Bryce
In reality, Bryce has always been connected to the University. The Mental Health Institute of Alabama notes that Bryce Hospital was the first mental hospital in the United States to treat patients with dignity and respect. Dr. Bryce adapted the “moral treatment movement” for the hospital and its patients. This movement was among the first of its kind and could be seen by the consideration and benevolence of the hospital staff. It even stood alongside the University during the Civil War.
If its outstanding history or its contribution to the humane treatment of the mentally ill cannot save the hospital, I’m not sure what could. Although not all of the building is being torn down, we can’t pretend the hospital isn’t losing a large portion of its integrity or its powerful presence.
Mary Catherine Connors is a sophomore majoring in economics and mathematics. Her column runs weekly.