After years of speculation from alumni, staff and students on when the day would come, the razing of LaFollette Complex has begun.

During this first phase, the university is bringing down one half of Mysch/Hurst Hall and all of Woody/Shales Hall. Asbestos abatement was completed in May so that on June 7, construction crews could use a crane-operated claw to start pulling down Woody/Shales from its eight-story roof. The remainder is slated for demolition in 2021.

A 1973 photo shows the outside of LaFollette Complex

Since it opened in 1967, LaFollette has been a home away from home for hundreds of thousands of students. Today, its massive footprint — its eight halls once housed about 1,900 students — is no longer considered best practice in residence hall living.

To celebrate the legacy of the complex, which has housed hundreds of thousands of students in its 50-year existence, the Office of Housing and Residence Life is starting the LaFollette Brick Project.

“We knew individuals who lived in LaFollette wanted to own some kind of memorabilia from the building,” said Alan Hargrave, director of housing. “This project was our solution. At the same time, it allows us to do something good for our current and future students.”

The bricks cost $75 each (shipping included). Money raised from the project will benefit the Thelma Miller Scholarship fund, which provides scholarships to students living in Ball State’s residence halls.

Renovations too costly

When LaFollette first opened in 1967, hundreds of residence halls like it were being built across America.

“It was a time when universities were responding to a surge in baby boomer enrollment by building huge residence complexes as quickly they could,” Hargrave said. “It was all about making as much space as possible for students demanding entrance into college.”

A student stands in the common area of LaFollette a residence hall

Matt Hageny was the last residence hall director for Woody/Shales Hall. During its final year of operation, Woody/Shales housed 200 students in its bottom four floors. The top four floors were unused during the 2016-17 academic year.

Fast-forward 50 years and the massive footprint of LaFollette — which houses about 1,900 students — is no longer best practice in residence hall living. “The university decided to replace LaFollette’s bed spaces with new architecture that meets 21st century students’ needs and enhances the vibrancy of the total campus,” Hargrave said.

Unlike other residence halls, the cost to renovate LaFollette would have been “staggering,” Hargrave said. “And even if we could have done it, it wouldn’t have substantially changed what the building looks like.”

New and renovated residence halls that have opened on campus in recent years, including Botsford/Swinford, Kinghorn and Park halls, typically house between 500 and 600 students clustered by major in living-learning communities.

“We know students have fond memories of living in LaFollette, but as times have changed, we’ve seen a shift in their appreciation for living in living-learning environments instead,” said Chris Wilkey, assistant marketing director for the Office of Housing and Residence Life. “Not to mention they tend to get better grades in these types of communities and create a bond with classmates in their respective fields.”

A sense of community

During a May media tour before Woody/Shales Hall closed its doors, senior telecommunications and journalism major Brie Isom got sentimental as she filmed a segment about the demolition for the student media site BallStateDaily.com.

A student stands in the doorway of a room in a LaFollette residence hall

Housing officials offered campus and local media a final tour of Woody/Shales Hall in May. Student Brie Isom made a sixth-floor stop to visit the room she lived in freshman year. “These halls bring back so many memories,” she said.

“Walking these halls brings back so many memories,” said Isom, who lived on the sixth floor her freshman year. “One of the great things about LaFollette was we were all freshmen, so we had this common bond of being on the same playing field, starting college together. We were always in each others’ rooms, talking to one another.”

Ball State has received an outpouring of similar responses via social media. From memories of meeting spouses and best friends to commiserating about the conditions of the building such as the lack of central air, alumni have left hundreds of comments about LaFollette on the university’s Facebook page.

Campus administrators say letting go of the past is easier once people understand what’s in store for Ball State’s north side of campus.

The campus master plan calls for two new residence halls and a freestanding, two-story dining facility that will feature multiple dining options, including a Starbucks, and have offices for housing and dining employees, Hargrave said. Before the remaining halls of LaFollette come down, the university must construct the first residence hall and the dining facility.

LaFollette Brick Project FAQs

How do I purchase a brick? Simply go to the LaFollette Brick Project page and follow the instructions.

When will I receive my brick? Bricks will be sent 3 to 5 weeks after the purchase date. 

Can I purchase one as a gift? Yes. Just type the gift address in the order form.

Can a brick be requested from a specific hall? No. Due to the demolition process, we do not have a way to identify the specific location from which a brick was removed.

For more information, contact the Housing and Residence Life Office at 765-285-8000 or email at housing@bsu.edu.

Hargrave said he’s heard all sorts of speculation as to why LaFollette is being razed. “Contrary to rumors, it’s not because the building is sinking. It’s an old facility … it’s time.”

With each passing year, LaFollette’s dated facilities have stood in contrast to residence halls built or renovated in the past decade.

“Students’ initial impression of LaFollette now is they’re less than excited to move in,” Hargrave said. But the housing director is quick to point to the intimate bonds formed by so many LaFollette dwellers over the years, including members of each new freshman class.

“They get into the building, get their rooms set up and suddenly the physical structure becomes less important than the memories they’re making. That’s because of the people they’re living with. As a facility, LaFollette has served Ball State well.”