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MSC history builds on past renovations

Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

msc renovation 1

Photos Courtesy of Cushing LIbrary

msc renovation

Photos Courtesy of Cushing LIbrary

The MSC opened on Muster in 1951. With time, the building grew into the home of student organizations, student recreation activities and campus dining.

During their time at A&M, the Classes of 2013, 2014 and 2015 have known the Memorial Student Center as little more than a construction zone in front of Kyle Field. But this isn’t the first time the student body has lost the MSC to renovations. The structure has grown with the size of the student body, and facility updates brought growing pains through the decades.

As a kind of predecessor to the MSC, the YMCA building served as the center of campus social life after its 1914 construction. But when campus enrollment began to surge following the admittance of women into the university, the YMCA building couldn’t adequately address the need for a comfortable, centralized place where students could gather.

The MSC, predating female students on campus, opened on Muster in 1951. With time, the building grew into the home of student organizations, student recreation activities and campus dining.

Wayne Stark was the first MSC director. He envisioned a structure that provided a cultural education for students to supplement academic coursework, and incorporated the arts into the MSC mission and layout.

“Wayne Stark wanted to expose students to performing arts and prepare them for life outside college,” said Amy Bacon, Class of 1991. “The MSC played a major role in getting A&M where it is today.”

The MSC has followed much of Stark’s vision through the years, using renovations to add or update facilities in support of the purpose of a student union on a college campus.

“Stark developed the ‘other education’ where it taught students with leadership training and how to be good citizens,” Woodcock said. “We absolutely execute the whole idea behind it. It’s not just a building, but a place to gather, get to know each other and develop relationships.”

After 20 years of service to the campus, the MSC was first closed for renovations in 1971. The $28 million project included an expansion and complemented the design for its new neighbor, Rudder Tower — a 12-story conference and theatre arts complex adjacent to the MSC. The building was reopened and rededicated three years later, in 1974.

The renovation doubled dining and cafeteria facilities, allowed more lounge area for patrons and added a faculty lounge, exchange store and a new post office location. The University also added meeting rooms and housing facilities.

The basement was expanded to incorporate more bowling lanes — a feature lost in the most recent renovation — and other games.

Notably, part of an area known as the MSC Promenade was transformed into what students recognize as the Flag Room, named for the multitude of Texas, U.S. and Corps of Cadets flags decorating the main lounge.

“This particular renovation really responded to the growth in the student body since it opened in 1951,” said David Woodcock, professor in the College of Architecture. “It was a new kind of building then that really captured the architecture of the 1950s and was an interesting ride to be part of.”

During the next decade and a half, the MSC endured additional improvements, such as carpeting, lighting and ceiling repairs. When booming enrollment again hit campus in the 1980s, it was clear that the student body had outgrown the MSC.

In October 1984, Ed Davis, vice president for fiscal affairs, gathered the University Center Advisory Committee to begin planning another major renovation.

With a price tag approaching

$22 million, the design called for the expansion of the Rudder theatre complex, adding 500 seats to the venue and a high-tech meeting room. On the east side, construction enlarged the bookstore, choral music facilities, the bowling and games area and added a food court.

A prominent art gallery also debuted with the project, and an enclosed bridge connected MSC to Rudder Tower. The project coincided with the construction of the John J. Koldus Student Services Building.

Renovations through the years have not been without controversy.

When it became apparent that renovations in the 1980s threatened a number of old oak trees, students and faculty protested. Students claimed they were unaware of the renovations and that their opinion was unaccounted for by the administration during the planning phase. Articles and columns appeared in The Battalion frequently, expressing students’ points of view.

Despite the controversy, the  MSC was renovated and reopened again in 1991.

“The tree outside Rudder [Tower] was called Rudder Tree and was over 100 years old,” Bacon said. “They attempted to replace and save as many as they could but the Rudder tree ended up dying.”

When Ray Bowen became the 21st president of the University in 1994, he began strategic plans to realize the goals of Vision 2020, improving the University’s reputation to a consensus Top-10 public school by the year 2020.

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