April 17, 2002

University Commits to Africana Center Plans

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Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, has to watch his step every time he enters his office at the Africana Studies and Research Center on North Campus.

Piles of books and videos cover almost the entire area, the floor-to-ceiling shelves are overstuffed, his desk is overflowing and his computer sits isolated on an almost inaccessible table.

But Turner doesn’t have an organization problem.

His problems with office space are representative of the entire Africana Center’s growing pains over the past two decades.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Turner, the Center’s former director, said.

After nearly two years of negotiations the faculty of the Center have finally secured a commitment from the University to fund renovations necessary for continued operations, said Prof. Don Ohadike, director of the Africana Center.

Recently, provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin visited with faculty earlier this semester to evaluate the current facility conditions.

“The Africana Center is one of the projects already on the list of approved facilities projects. The feasibility study is complete and the University’s Capital Facilities and Projects Committee has approved the next stage in the process of facilities enhancement which is schematic design.” Martin said.

Among the many problems plaguing the Center, Turner said, are nonexistent air conditioning, heating and boiler problems, insufficient office space for faculty, cramped library space and crowding due to increasing numbers of students visiting the Center.

Additionally, he said, there is no room to display the “OBitchery” collection currently sitting in storage and the building needs “significant structural work,” which has not been done since the Africana faculty moved into the former fraternity house in 1971.

“It’s embarrassing,” Turner said, citing one “distinguished” senior faculty member sharing an office with an administrative officer.

Next semester, according to Ohadike, space concerns will “force [professors] to share offices.”

“I would say the University has its own priorities … we are not too happy that the Africana project did not achieve the priority it deserved,” Ohadike said.

Turner also addressed the Center’s unchecked deterioration over the years.

“We’re low-cost so we’re low-maintenance,” he said.

Among the additions planned in the renovation, Ohadike noted, is a performance theater which will house concerts, plays and lectures for up to 150 students. Additional office spaces for faculty, two storage spaces and another large classroom are also planned in addition to expanding the Hoyt-Fuller Room, currently the largest room in the building with a 30- to 40-student capacity.

Turner also hopes for a fully-wired graduate computer lab and an expanded library.

He said that making the facility accessible to handicapped students is also a priority.

Another concern is the lack of space to hold many of the Africana Center’s books. Ohadike said that Cornell University Library is reluctant to give up stack space at Olin Library and instead encourages departments seeking space to use computers to access materials electronically.

“They want to supply computers [instead of stack space],” Ohadike explained.

Although there is a “firm commitment,” Ohadike said, the administration will not give an amount of money until specific architectural plans are submitted. “The exact amount is still in limbo,” he added.

According to Turner, the initial target for the budget was $3 million minimally, which was reduced to $2 million on University budget reconsideration. As a result of the meeting with Martin, Turner said, the budget will probably be at least $2.5 million.

The Center’s committee for the renovation project — consisting of Turner and Ohadike, along with Profs. N’Dri T. Assie-Lumumba and Locksley Edmondson, Africana studies — is currently reviewing applications and proposals from various architects.

“We’d like to see African-American architects have a shot at [making a proposal],” Turner said, citing the “racially exclusive” architects working on projects elsewhere on campus.

“I would urge [Martin] to have an open mind in this matter so that when the architects finally draw their plan, there won’t be another round of debates,” Ohadike said. “We too had an open mind. We are not going to be unreasonable.”

Archived article by Andy Guess