By Allison Bellucci, Contributing writer
If you ask any student at the University of New Hampshire if they have had a class in Hamilton Smith Hall, the answer would probably be “yes.” With so many students who cross its threshold each day, Hamilton Smith is one of the flagship buildings on campus.
Despite its usage – and perhaps because of it – many look forward to the promised renovations without understanding Hamilton Smith’s history.
As of April 14, the University System of New Hampshire board of trustees voted to approve renovations to Hamilton Smith. Because of the building’s great historical significance, it was difficult to get the renovations approved.
With the renovations starting in 2015, students can start getting excited to see the transformation of Hamilton Smith with the new design plans, including an open floor plan, tall ceiling-to-floor windows and a court yard.
Many students and teachers have often discussed the need for Hamilton Smith to be redone. Hosting over 20 different departments within the English department, the building has more seats than any other. This poorly ventilated and rickety building is commonly complained about. Compared to Paul College, Kingsbury and other newly designed academic buildings, Hamilton Smith does not take first place in aesthetics within the classroom areas.
Hamilton Smith was one of the first buildings on campus and was originally the campus library. Built in 1907 with the $10,000 donation of Hamilton Smith, a wealthy member of the Durham community, and Andrew Carnegie’s $20,000 donation in 1905 was enough to start building. Carnegie wanted the new library to exhibit “free use of faculty, students, members of Durham, library association and the citizens of Durham.§
With many different staircases and odd wings, it is notoriously difficult to find where classes or teachers’ offices are. Although this design is often deemed odd to many students and teachers, the Hamilton Smith Library was built to reflect the classical theory that a library is “a repository of information.”
This was to make information only easily available by the guidance of a librarian. In 1958, the construction for the Dimond Library began.
The current reference librarian, Debbie Watson, has been working at Dimond since 1964. Although she had never worked in the Hamilton Smith library, she has many fond memories of the beauty and process of switching from Hamilton Smith to Dimond. Watson recalled a story of a statue in the Hamilton Smith library that you saw right when you looked in.
“Students used to put lipstick on the statue as a joke,” she said. Watson also described the unique technique that the school used to move the books from Hamilton Smith to Dimond. “They didn’t pay anyone to move the books from one building to the other,” she said. “They organized the books, put them in bags and had students who were going the right direction carry bags during passing time.”
An alumnus of the English department, Kathleen Leven ‘85, recalls her days of having class in Hamilton Smith. One of her best memories of the building was the natural lighting each classroom had.
“I’ve always thought that all of the rooms I had class in had good lighting. No matter where in the building, the lighting was really good from the window,” she said. “Even basement classes had tons of windows, and on either side on the second floor, all the rooms had a lot of windows.”
The new plans show large windows, which will help carry on this memorable element of Hamilton Smith.
Leven’s daughter, Jane Leven 16, now attends UNH and has classes in the building. “The building does have beautiful aspects, but, it could use a lot of improvements,” she said. “I think it’s good that they are keeping the original front design of the building, but times change and the university has to update and modernize.”