Members of the Arkansas Tech University Board of Trustees toured the restored and soon to re-open Williamson Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Dr. Cathi McMahan, professor of recreation and park administration and coordinator of programs in the ATU Department of Parks, Recreation and Hospitality Administration (PRHA), shared details of each classroom and laboratory space as trustees made their way through the historic structure.
"I don't know how to explain what this building means," said McMahan. "This is my home. The experiences that we share with students here create bonds. We can't wait to hear the footsteps of students in these hallways once again."
Williamson Hall had a long and storied history even before it became home to the ATU Department of Parks, Recreation and Hospitality Administration.
Opened in 1940 as the home of the National Youth Administration (NYA) headquarters for Arkansas, the building that came to be known as Williamson Hall reverted to ATU ownership after the NYA was discontinued in 1943.
Arkansas Tech students from the 1940s through the early 1970s knew the building as the home of the fine arts program. Marvin Williamson, namesake of the facility and the first band director in Tech history, taught there, as did his successor, Gene Witherspoon.
The studios for radio station KXRJ, which later became KARV, were located in Williamson Hall from the time it went on the air in February 1947 until 1957.
U.S. Army ROTC students trained inside Williamson Hall. One of Tech’s most decorated ROTC alumni is Major General William Wofford, who returned to the front lawn of Williamson Hall as Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard on Oct. 26, 2013, to help re-introduce the tradition of Jerry the Bulldog to Arkansas Tech following a 76-year absence.
Williamson Hall was named to the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 8, 1992, and was in the midst of a major renovation project when it caught fire shortly after 4 p.m. on April 3, 2019.
Insurance reviews of the fire damage concluded on July 30, 2019. The ATU Board of Trustees voted on Jan. 16, 2020, to move forward with a historic preservation project to restore Williamson Hall and return it to service as an academic building.
And now, more than three-and-a-half years after they first moved out of the building, PRHA faculty and staff have returned. Classes will be conducted in Williamson Hall during the spring 2022 semester and a grand re-opening event will be planned at a date to be determined.
"You have maintained a flexible and positive attitude throughout this process," said Stephanie Duffield, vice chairman of the ATU Board of Trustees, in speaking to the ATU PRHA faculty and staff assembled for Tuesday's tour. "This department is filled with happy hearts."
Cass Capen-Housley, instructor and event coordinator of parks, recreation and hospitality administration, and Dr. Linda Birkner, assistant vice president for administration and finance, assisted with the tour.
Trustees also had an opportunity to interact with ATU PRHA students Seaira Chavis of Fordyce, Caitlin Earl of Dallas, Texas, Faith Johnson of Dover, LaBrian Phillips Jr. of Little Rock and Glendon VanSandt of Kansas, Okla.
Learn more about the ATU Department of Parks, Recreation and Hospitality Administration at www.atu.edu/prha.