Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A demolition crew will be taking their talents to Hicks Hall in the near future. This follows from a 2015 Board of Managers decision to begin three new construction projects at the college. The soon to be built Biology, Engineering, and Psychology Building (BEP) is projected to be the largest of the three projects. It is budgeted for $120 million and construction will start in 2017 on where Hicks and Papazian Halls currently stand. The project is expected to be completed in 2020.
Hicks Hall is home to one of Swarthmore’s departments that distinguishes it from other liberal arts schools: its Engineering Department. Since its construction in the 1920s, Hicks Hall has seen the faces of many in search for innovation and automation. It stands majestically behind Trotter Hall and often goes unnoticed by non-engineering students.
There is more to Hicks Hall than meets the eye however. It contains a famous fresco that was painted in 1938 by James Egleson ‘29. This mural carries heavy social sentiment according to Stuart Hain, Vice President for Facilities and Capital Projects. The piece of art is now hidden for the most part in a room used for multiple research purposes. More on its history can be found in the Friends Meeting Library.
Many Engineering students will recall Hicks dearly. Julius Miller ‘19 recounts his connection to the building: “Well first of all, in order to get in you have to take the stairs right? And the stairs are so steep…. It’s kind of a lot of work just to get onto the second floor, which kind of serves as a pretty great metaphor for Engineering.” Miller continued, “I get the feeling that Hicks was designed to always reinforce the idea that Engineering is going to be really hard but if you keep climbing up those steps it’s going to be worth it.” He added, “I’ve nearly tripped going up the steps multiple times,” but confirmed that he always continues to the top.
Even though the home of the Engineering Department has a place in Swatties’ hearts, it is going to be replaced. The new building will house Engineering, Psychology and Biology. Hain explained, “Hicks is coming down because the space will be more suitably and wonderfully used by the new building. Hicks’ footprint will be consumed by that building.” A team ran diagnostics on the hall by running through a checklist from plumbing and heating to structural configuration and more.
Hain said, “Hicks is a sound building structurally, it is in no danger of falling down, but many of the other systems are really antiquated. To bring Hicks to a modern standard would mean losing space in the building to mechanical systems and other things.”
These decisions were not made wantonly. Hain explained, “[There is a] very complicated, elaborate, plan to save [the famous mural]…so there is certainly an element at Hicks that we do not plan to throw away.”
Hain added, “So after thinking about it pretty hard and looking at the opportunity that strip of land that Hicks and the parking lot [present] it was pretty clear…we could serve the future better by taking them down.”
Image courtesy of Eleftherios Kostans/Swarthmore College Bulletin.