Do you remember the days when the education building was considered state of the art?

Ruffner Hall RenderingOver the 1972-73 winter break Curry faculty, staff, and graduate students moved into a big, bright new education building where everything was clean and fresh. Faculty scattered around Grounds were brought together for the first time in Curry’s history, and many of them were thrilled with the large classrooms and colorful metal furniture in their offices.

“It was all shiny and pretty,” says Rebecca Kneedler. She was a doctoral student at the time and later joined Curry’s special education faculty. The modern-looking brick building with big, airy classrooms and freshly painted offices, she says, felt like big step up.

“My first impression of Ruffner was that it was an upgrade, with cutting edge technology,” says Jim Esposito, associate professor of administration and supervision. “Everything was new. Most of the offices had some kind of window. And we had a nice education library.”

Dan Hallahan, a recent addition to the special ed faculty at the time, moved into a shared second-floor office after working in the basement at Peabody Hall, where the school had been housed for decades. “It was a big step up,” he recalls.

Herb Richards, professor of educational psychology, had a first-floor office across the hall from a restroom used by children in Curry’s experimental nursery school. He remembers his office being periodically flooded by stopped- up toilets until the youngsters were moved out of the building a year later.

Despite the fact that the architects who designed Ruffner Hall were considered one of “the finest architectural firms designing schools buildings,” its spartan simplicity never fit in with the rest of the university architecture. Carolyn Callahan, remembers as a new professor in the educational psychology department, driving her grandmother down Emmet Street and pointing out the location of her office. “You work in a prison?” her grandmother asked when she saw the plain, boxy structure.

Less than a year after its completion, bricks began falling off the foot-high wall perimeter atop of the building and had to be buttressed to protect passersby. The building’s flat roof posed drainage problems after every hard rain.

To accommodate the growing faculty, renovations began almost immediately. Center hallways were closed off to create new offices. Rooms were rearranged. Since the heating/cooling systems were not designed for flexibility, room temperature varied widely and has been a perennial problem.

Ruffner Hall clearly has had its limitations, though they were never enough to hinder the Curry School’s continually rising national reputation.

“Despite Ruffner Hall’s dreary physical space, Curry was still able to attract and educate countless outstanding students for the past 40 years,” notes Hallahan. “Seems to me, this is an excellent example of substance over style.”

In less than two years, we will see how much more can happen inside a building whose interior is designed for the needs of a 21st-century education school.

by Lynn Bell

Related Story: Ruffner Renovation

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