Goodnight Sweet Lady: Churchill Hall’s New Look

 

 

I came to college in 2014 from Washington state. After traveling about 2,000 miles, I was ready to meet my new home, and, oh boy, was I underwhelmed. After the first day, I had just one question: How did I get this unlucky?

Churchill had its quirks. It was hot when it was hot. The bathrooms always sucked, but sucked more in winter time, and, oh yeah, the basement was always terrifying no matter the time of day or year.

Touring through the building for the first time, you could wear the stagnant air like a coat. Sweat dripped from everywhere it could drip from. I am sure the checkered floors had accrued decades of other people’s sweat and tears for having been placed in such a godforsaken place.

It was a surprise to me when I found a way to love this building. Alas, the building I knew is no longer. It is replaced by a surrogate that, aside from the outside, shares no resemblance to its former “glory.”

That is what roughly $11 million will do for you.

What once was is gone forever

Rian Nostrum sat down with me to discuss the death of the old and the birth of the well ventilated. “This building opened for NDAC,” for those of us who don’t know, Churchill Hall was opened for the North Dakota Agricultural College (NDAC) in 1931. Things have changed since then including that dorm.

As I sat down one cannot overlook the cool crisp air in the building, “It’s chilled.” Nostrum informed me that Churchill now has a large chill system that cools all the air to the building.  As we sat on the first-floor lounge it was hard to forget the memory of that very first day — the sweat inducing move in day. This is now cut back thoroughly.

Churchill Hall was not a piece of history that one really cared to be placed in, and you would learn this quickly. I would be lying though if there wasn’t an appeal to that old dorm. Friendship filled the air, and a sense of camaraderie that only comes from peeing in your sink built strong bonds amongst everyone.

That last bonding experience is most likely gone, sadly (kind of?). Because now, Churchill boasts some of the best bathrooms on campus. Trust me, judging bathrooms is kind of my thing.

There is privacy as far as the eye can see. A real reason to get out of your room and see the world.

As Nostrum and I toured the bathrooms, he told me about how the bathrooms featured no urinals, so that Churchill could become a coed dorm or even an all-female dorm.

We opened stall doors so I could see the latest and greatest technology for excretion and snapped award winning photographs. Sorry to the person who we later realized was using the bathroom, I hope our conversation didn’t bother you.

There are private stalls with fogged glass and personal lights, as well as gender neutral bathrooms on every wing and floor. Gone are the days of taking girlfriends and friends to a bathroom on the first floor or standing guard at an all male’s bathroom for the opposite sex: Welcome to 2017, Churchill.

Churchill’s old accommodations were nothing close to this. Once upon a time, they used to feature grey floors with showers that could legally be called private, but one white curtain and no doors really doesn’t get the job done these days. Friends would have conversations while showering and best friends would shower together I heard once.

The old stalls featured broken doors and untrustworthy locks. Privacy was just the concept, not what was being practiced in my dorm. For the future Bison though, poop in peace.

Gone also are the checkered floors that are believed to be originally from 1931 according to Nostrum who said there was no record of them ever being replaced. The red and black checkered design made for a hypnotic trip down history. A friend told me he used to talk to his grandfather about those checkered floors.

The floors are replaced with a pleasant rustic tile. Who knows, maybe these floors will be talked about a couple generations down the line.

Keeping the historic trust

“The building would be 86 years old now … and a majority of the building hadn’t been renovated.” At the time of renovation, the building had a lot of the original material in it according to Nostrum. Meaning that certain elements of the building hadn’t been touched since 1931. That offers the building a certain almost wacky type of history. Like walking and living in an old musty museum prior to the recent renovations.

Nostrum welcomed me into Churchill through the back door facing Centennial Boulevard. Climbing up the stairs, I was shocked by how much was different, but also how much was the same in that area at least.

Nostrum put a hand on the railing, queuing the tour early, and informed me that the railing was still the original wood installed in 1931. Nostrum told me that as far as major renovations to the stair well was limited to just “Minor cosmetic stuff… as far as we know the wood in the stair wells are original.” Again there was no record of them ever being replaced. Residence Life decided to keep that wood and match all new wood to the color. Giving students an ability to literally touch history.

These elements of the building was something I never really appreciated during my tenure. But, damn, those stairs are old.

The hallways, although new, do feature a certain rustic value. Dark wood seems to be everywhere and old style windows bathe the interior with sunshine from outside(the windows were replaced about six years ago according to Nostrum).

Although the aura of being from the oldest, grossest dorm is gone, there is an ancient echo from this building that is special. The checkered floors are long gone, the roaches moved out of the basement and the smell of fresh paint lingers in the chilled air. But this building is still old and filled with history and memories. Current grandfathers have lived in this dorm and could fill anyone’s ear with their crazy college stories.

Eighty-six years is a long time to collect memories. This dorm housed students during the civil rights era. Churchill men listened to Nixon’s resignation speech. Churchill has seen national tragedies like Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma City Bombing and 9/11. That history can’t be bought nor appraised. For those who were placed within its walls, it is a privilege. You yourself are part of that sacred history that will continue from now until the building is reduced to rubble.

A goodbye to what once was and a hello to the future

“Oh no, I got in Churchill.” Nostrum told me that their biggest struggle over the summer was convincing people that Churchill had changed. Some students were unaware of the major renovation, Nostrum says they would chuckle because they were, in a way, getting the newest dorm on campus. Adding, “no one has been disappointed yet.”

As our tour ended, I asked Nostrum a simple question: Is Churchill now your baby? “It is,” he answered quickly.

Churchill is heritage here at NDSU. I am sure now that history will be preserved within its walls. Nostrum talked about working with the NDSU Archives to hang historic pictures throughout the dorm. So, it is a goodbye, but the dorm seems to be well on its way to becoming a more comfortable live-in museum for those lucky enough to be assigned there.

For the people who live there now, understand that special connection to history and be aware you are now entering that same history book.

As I unpacked my college gear from the Subaru it became clear, this was the worse dorm on campus and I just got placed in it. I never wanted to have a community bathroom. I never wanted stairs and my room was nothing to write home about. It’s hot, and I knew I would have trouble even sleeping at night for the first few weeks, holy hell just wait until winter comes.

Sometimes though, what you want is all wrong. Sometimes you truly don’t know what you want. What I found in Churchill was family and friendship that follows me now and for the future.

If I could say anything to that freshmen version of myself on that day, I would say simply, you lucked out.

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