UA Leaders and Randall Family Open New Campus Welcome Center


On a gloriously sunny spring day, golden shovels gleamed and dug into a ceremonial mound of dirt outside historic Bryce Main as the University of Alabama opened its next ‘gateway’ on Friday. Entrance”, the Catherine and Pettus Randall Visitor Center.

“I was talking yesterday with a group up north, recruiting students, like we often do here,” said UA Chairman Stuart R. Bell, “and I said ‘You know, it’s like that every day in Tuscaloosa “.”

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Members of the Randall family, including philanthropists, joined UA leaders, construction and architectural teams, many donors and alumni outside on the back porch of Bryce House for talks and presentations, then walked or hiked Bryce Lawn Drive for grand opening photos.

The University of Alabama celebrated the grand opening of the Catherine and Pettus Randall Visitor Center in the historic Bryce Hospital building on Friday, April 1, 2022. Gary Cosby Jr./Tuscaloosa News

“As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait,” said Bob Pierce, vice president for advancement, who helped lead fundraising for what will be an $83,750 restoration project. $000 for Bryce Main.

The Randall Visitor Center will occupy the ground floor of Bryce Main, while above will be offices for UA’s theater and dance department, its classrooms, studios and halls rehearsal, as well as museums dedicated to the history of AU and mental health in Alabama. .

“This facility in its restored glory will no doubt be worth the wait,” said Pierce.

Informal tours were conducted in the building, which opened in 1861 as the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane, later renamed in honor of Dr. Peter Bryce, its innovative first superintendent.

Architect Samuel Sloan designed the hospital using the Kirkbride Plan, a concept of “moral architecture” devised by 1830s activists Thomas Story Kirkbride and Dorothea Dix. Construction began in 1853, took several years, and became Tuscaloosa’s first building with gas lighting and central heating.

Sloan also designed the Jemison-Van de Graaff mansion in downtown Tuscaloosa, for Robert Jemison Jr., a planter, politician, and businessman who had played a crucial role in establishing Tuscaloosa’s mental hospital. State in the Druidic City. Sloan has stayed up to date with the latest technology, making this home one of the first in town with running water, flush toilets, a hot water boiler and its own coal gas plant.

The house is named after his great-grandson, born in the mansion, Robert Jemison van de Graaff, a renowned physicist who designed and built the Van de Graaff high voltage generators, spending most of his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. , and Princeton University.

The University of Alabama celebrated the grand opening of the Catherine and Pettus Randall Visitor Center in the historic Bryce Hospital building on Friday, April 1, 2022. Cathy Randall is responding to comments made during the ceremony.  Gary Cosby Jr./Tuscaloosa News

The Italianate domed construction on the Bryce Hospital campus has become the striking center of a seven-building connected facility, built to accommodate 250 patients. In 1861, the project cost about $280,000, which would be more than $9 million today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index.

Consolidation work on the more than 160-year-old building has begun, with new stairs added and years of debris cleared by JT Harrison Construction Co., according to plans by Birmingham-based TurnerBatson Architects.

UA purchased the 168-acre Bryce property in 2010 from the Alabama Department of Mental Health. In 2014, the UA System Board took its first formal steps to “save, restore and preserve Bryce Main,” Pierce said.

As part of the purchase, UA agreed to restore Bryce Main components and preserve the original facilities and construction to the extent possible. A section of ruined cornice surrounding the interior of the imposing dome has been removed, to be digitized and recreated in modern materials.

The adjacent Superintendent’s House, where the opening remarks were delivered, now called The Bryce House, was restored in August 2021, at a cost of over $4.3 million.

Adjoining Bryce Main will be additional buildings to become the 130,000 square foot Smith Family Center for the Performing Arts, named after a family of UA alumni who recently donated $20 million. This project is expected to cost up to $60 million, of which approximately $38 million has been raised.

Former UA athletic director Bill Battle, who with his wife Mary spearheaded the $15 million performing arts campaign, with Hollywood star Sela Ward, who graduated from UA in 1977 as Honorary Chair, noted that the paired projects blend together like a slow-dancing couple.

The timeline should go something like this, according to Pierce:

• Spring 2023: Inauguration of the Smith Center.

• January 2024: Inauguration of the Randall Welcome Center.

• January 2026: Grand gala and inaugural performances at the Smith Center.

The 15,000-square-foot Randall Welcome Center will include spaces for prospective students and their families to gather for campus tours, as well as a lounge, theater, and UA admissions offices.

Once established, the interior will not remain static, said Matthew McLendon, associate vice president and executive director of listings management.

The University of Alabama celebrated the grand opening of the Catherine and Pettus Randall Visitor Center in the historic Bryce Hospital building on Friday, April 1, 2022. Groups tour the main building, which is undergoing extensive renovations.  Gary Cosby Jr./Tuscaloosa News

“We will be purchasing state-of-the-art curved and ultra-thin OLED digital signage displays for an intense immersive experience,” he said. “It will have project mapping systems that basically allow a student to sit down and experience a lecture in class; experience a day of play; experience a conversation with alumni when they are the.

“And so I think, for me, the way I really describe it is like a living scene, or a little corny, as we say here: pixels with a purpose,” McLendon added.

“And it’s going to evolve and serve us and our future students from now and into the future. It’s going to be really cool. I don’t know any other way to put it.”

President Bell spoke of the upcoming center as a centerpiece for the campus, a jewel in the crown.

“You know what they say, there’s no hospitality like Southern hospitality,” he said. “And I’m not sure that slogan wasn’t invented here at the University of Alabama.”

The namesake Randall family can be found on the newly renamed campus road, Randall Way, the 19-acre Randall Family Park and Trailhead open to the Northern Riverwalk, and many other locations, including of course Randall Publishing.

As president and CEO of that company for more than a quarter of a century, Pettus Randall III grew the business his father started in 1934 as the “Who’s Who among university and college students Americans” into a publishing empire with dozens of magazines, websites and more, focusing on people and public service.

“I think it’s important to try to give something back to the community and to strive to make life better for everyone,” Randall said in a May 2002 interview with The Tuscaloosa News, about four months before his death at age 57 from pancreatic cancer.

The University of Alabama celebrated the grand opening of the Catherine and Pettus Randall Visitor Center in the historic Bryce Hospital building on Friday, April 1, 2022. Cathy Randall greets friends before the ceremony.  Gary Cosby Jr./Tuscaloosa News

His widow Cathy Randall continued that legacy by co-chairing the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial Committee, Alabama Honor Academy, and director of the UA Academic Honors Program for 25 years – now named in her honor, under the Catherine J. Randall Fellowship program name. She also worked as a news anchor at CBS affiliate WCFT-TV, earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates from UA, and was named one of the 31 best female graduates of the century, alongside notables. like Harper Lee, who has become a close friend. UA was responsible for her family, she said, because that’s where she and her husband met.

Cathy Randall noted that much of her philanthropic work, widely publicized around Tuscaloosa and the UA campus, was aimed at keeping her late husband’s name and work alive. She paraphrased Eliza Hamilton, wife of the central figure of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical phenomenon, who sings, “You could have done so much more if you had the time.”

“And as extraordinary as the differences he’s made in so many lifetimes, professionally, in his church, in his community, he could have done so much more,” Randall said.

Visitors to campus 20, 50, or 100 years from now will be able to see the name Randall and may be interested in learning more.

“It’s really to inspire people to live a life the way he lived, and the way he would have lived had he had the chance, and more time,” she said.


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