Bryce Hospital turning into UA Property


UA is looking for more room to expand, and Bryce Hospital is the solution.

By Alaina Boukedes
Contributing Writer

TUSCALOOSA—The University of Alabama is expanding into the land where Bryce Hospital resides. The university is pushing the administration to look for room in the Tuscaloosa area to develop. Renovations are a necessity as the university’s property expands, but problems could arise with making the old new again.

“The secret key is the acquisition of the Bryce campus,” said Tim Leopard, the assistant vice president of construction administration at UA.

Construction administration’s goal is “to provide an attractive, clean, comfortable, safe and healthy environment.” Leopard is in charge of mapping out future building projects on campus with a capital development plan. This plan is where any upcoming renovations will be recorded and budgeted for by the board of trustees.

“We have to bring it up to code,” Leopard said.

Buildings on campus have to comply with certain guidelines for safety, ensuring efficiency no matter what year the structure was built. The University has buildings that date back to the campus’s first year in 1831. These buildings must be carefully wired for new technologies so that the building structures don’t fall.

“From a sustainability perspective buildings from the 20’s are easier to renovate electrically,” Leopard said.

These revisions are said to be easier for the construction administration due to the high ceilings that were popular during that time period. Buildings on the university campus are being renovated with technological updates, such as projectors and speaker systems for microphones.

In the case of Bryce Hospital, both land and buildings are being renovated. The university has already acquired land from the Bryce facilities in 2010, paying about $77 million for the space and $10 million for historical conservation and greens clean up, according to The Tuscaloosa News. Plans for new residential and educational buildings are already underway.

While these constructions are moving along, there are people that are hoping to protect the Bryce Hospital.

“The Bryce main building is registered,” said Lee Anne Wofford, director of Historic Preservation at the Alabama Historical Commission.

Wofford is referring to historical registration. When buildings are found to have enough historical background to be granted registration, national laws for any demolition protect them.

The commission works with national agencies to preserve historical places in Alabama. One of these historical properties is the main building of Bryce Hospital and the green space out front. This building and lawn are registered as a site of historical value. The value comes from the rich history and the design plan of the facility.

Bryce Hospital was built under the Kirkbride plan, a blueprint that was adapted by many asylums during the 19th century. Buildings under the Kirkbride plan were segregated by sex and symptoms that created a linear design, separating one side from the other side of the building. Asylums built by the Kirkbride plan are slowly deteriorating from lack of maintenance, leaving Bryce Hospital one of the last buildings under this design. The Department of Mental Health has to preserve this main Bryce building, Wofford said.

The university works with the preservation societies in the area to ensure that both the university and the buildings are meeting requirements.

“It is a collaborative process to ensure we are aligning with the needs of the university,” Leopard said.

The university is working to keep the integrity of all buildings intact said Leopard. The construction administration is adding on instead of demolishing, which is keeping the honesty of the campus building complete.

“There have been a lot of things that the university has done to help,” said Lydia Ellington, director of the Gorgas House Museum.

The Gorgas House is an example of the university adapting to the needs of a historical building. The house is the oldest structure on campus, according to the university website. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and since then the university has taken an interest in maintaining the Gorgas House. UV filters have been added to the windows to keep the light from fading the interiors inside, Wofford said.

“The university is very conscious about upkeep,” Wofford said.