The decision to redesign the campus, which was made prior to the 60th anniversary of the University in 1993, was not the first such plan.
Previous concepts for development beyond the original aggregation of converted homes and outbuildings had resulted in the construction of a diverse assortment of new buildings beginning with the original gymnasium, and progressing through the Darte Center for the Performing Arts, the Stark Learning Center, the Farley Library, and Pickering Hall.
Still, while the buildings cited had improved Wilkes' facilities, the earlier efforts had never succeeded in creating a campus atmosphere. There were a number of reasons for this failure. Natural disaster, governmental support policies, and national economic problems, all of which have been discussed previously, disrupted the construction program which had flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Pickering Hall, which had been designed as the first of a series of four such residence halls to occupy the block between West Ross and West South, South Franklin and South River, proved to have been an ill-conceived design and the remainder of the residential complex was never completed. Finally, the new buildings were not part of an integrated design but had been tucked into available nooks and crannies, an arrangement which was unavoidable given that much of the land needed for a comprehensive design remained in private hands.
The new plan built on those aborted in the past, as well as expanding and revising the concepts. The idea of an academic block between Northampton and South streets and a residential block between South and Ross dated back over 20 years. The difference was that the University, during the intervening period, had succeeded in acquiring most of the properties in the academic block and now was better able to control its destiny. The other was the decision to float a $25 million bond issue for construction of a new classroom and office building and a Student Center, as well as improving the internal communications system of the University to provide for the needs of the computer age.
The design involved creation of an interior greenway running the length of the block. This included removal of Church Hall and the Fenner garage, and the erection of a statue of John Wilkes at the south end of the Greenway. The statue was cast from the same mold as the original in England and was dedicated in 1995.
It was proposed to move Church Hall to the north end of the Greenway and turn it at right angles to its present position. However, this was determined to be impractical and Church Hall was demolished after the bookstore was moved elsewhere. John Wilkes will be able to see and be seen as far north as Delaware and Chesapeake Hall.
Of the three remaining private properties still in the academic block in 1993, a deteriorating apartment building between the Library and the Allan P. Kirby Center was purchased and razed in 1994 and the building at the corner of Franklin and Northampton was purchased in 1995 and renovated for the use of the Department of Nursing. It was named the Marion K. and Richard L. Pearsall Hall. This left only one remaining private property in the block, a dentist office at 123 South Franklin Street.
The new classroom and office building was opened in 1995, the first new academic building on the campus in 20 years. The renovation of Pearsall Hall for the Department of Nursing and Capin Hall for the History and Communications departments provided improved quarters for these departments while preserving two of the former residences, further demonstrating Wilkes' willingness to preserve the past when possible while making preparations for the future.
To date, most of the renovations have been concentrated in the academic block. Changes below South Street have been confined to further demolition of deteriorated properties. The former Bell residence on South Franklin Street was removed in 1994 after it was determined that it was beyond saving. Two derelict brick double blocks and a wood house on Barnum Place were purchased and demolished in 1995, the land cleared being converted to parking.
The construction of a new Student Center was scheduled to begin on the plot adjacent to Bedford Hall in late 1997, inaugurating changes to the residential area of the University.