Barnes Hall leaves 80 years of tradition as oldest residence hall
When Barnes Hall is torn down next summer, residences in north campus won’t just be losing a building. They will be losing a history of close-knit community.
At its Dec. 6 meeting, the Central Michigan University Board of Trustees approved the first year of a three-year residence life plan which includes the decommissioning and demolition of Barnes Hall.
The demolition will begin in the summer of 2019, and will leave behind a long legacy on campus.
Barnes and Keeler
Barnes is the oldest residence hall on campus, dating back to 1939, according to CMU’s website. Barnes' north wing was in the Keeler Union building, known today as Powers Hall, said Bryan Whitledge, CMU’s archivist for University Digital Records.
Barnes was the first all-male dorm on campus and housed around 90 residents. Keeler dorms had a different role to play on campus. With the outbreak of World War II, people needed to be trained quickly for war.
The Navy V-12 training program was training young people on CMU's campus to do just that, Whitledge said. The building housed 125 cadets from 1942 until July 1944, which was 35 people over capacity, according to CMU’s website.
“They were doing 12-week courses and trying to ready people for overseas service,” Whitledge said.
After the war ended, enrollment on campus increased. As did the need for residence halls. In 1951, a new wing was added to Keeler and renamed Charles C. Barnes Hall in 1952, Whitledge said.
By the 1970s, Barnes became the first dormitory on campus that allowed co-ed floors, something that all dormitories practice today.
Changes were also being made in the front lobby of Barnes and Powers Hall during this period. Before the music building existed, the Department of Music occupied Powers. The department outgrew its space in the early 1970s and moved into the space currently occupied by the Barnes lobby.
Part of the lobby was given back to Barnes in 1977, but the rest it wasn't given back until around two decades later when the Music Building was built, said Luanne Goffnett, current residence hall director of Barnes and Robinson.
To the people who live in Barnes, it’s more than just a building.
Many residents of Barnes view their community as an inclusive and welcoming environment. Plymouth junior Casey Boyle lived in Barnes for two years and said Robinson and Barnes are the most welcoming places on campus. Boyle is currently the Hall Council president for Robinson and Barnes.
“I think (Barnes) is a very welcoming community as a whole,” Boyle said. “A lot of people know you by name. (In the) Towers where there’s so many people, you don’t really get that.”
This is the environment Goffnett has been building for almost three decades, since she became Barnes RHD in 1991. It was her first job out of college, and she said it’s been her only job and home since. She values the community Barnes has built over many years, where people of all races, religions and sexual orientations can feel safe.
“The entire time I’ve been at Barnes, and even before I got there, it was always kind of a catch-all place,” Goffnett said. “We end up getting a unique mix of people and I’ve really embraced and enjoyed that.
"It’s a place where you can be you.”
While she loves the community, one of her most cherished Barnes memories is much more personal. In November 1999, she unexpectedly discovered she was having triplets.
Goffnett's supervisors at the time responded with a mass of support and accommodations.
In the summer of 2000, her supervisor has the RHD apartment in Barnes remodeled by combining her room and the student dorm above hers. The room was smaller than other RHD suites on campus — she could have easily moved to a different residence hall. Instead, they chose to honor the work Goffnett was doing.
“(It made me feel) incredibly valued and as a result, I’ve been a loyal employee,” Goffnett said. “I felt honored for my passions, skills, and talents that I have.”
Goffnett raised her children in Barnes Hall. Her kids got to meet kids from all around the world and bring a positive experience to the residents who stayed at Barnes. It was never just a job for her.
“It’s not a job — it’s a lifestyle choice for me,” Goffnett said.
Goffnett learned over the summer of 2018 that the Office of Residence Life will not be using Barnes as a residence hall starting May 2019. Eventually, she found out that the building itself wouldn’t be around for much longer.
Barrie Wilkes, the vice president of Finance and Administrative Services, said the decision was made because Barnes is outdated, not handicap accessible and still has community bathrooms.
Short-term renovations to Barnes would exceed $3 million and would cost more if it were to be made handicap accessible, he said. It is cheaper to demolish than to refurbish. The land will be reverted back to being a green space, Wilkes said.
Both Boyle and Goffnett felt grief after the vote was made. Boyne City freshman Ethan Hewitt said the decision may be a good step forward for campus, but he will still miss Barnes when it’s gone.
“It will be a little bittersweet,” Hewitt said. “Part of me is happy that I get to be one of the last people to live in this building. At the same time, it will be a little disappointing if I ever want to bring my kids back and the building I lived in isn’t here anymore.”
Ubly freshman Nicholas Swanson opposed the decision because the history it leaves behind.
Rockford junior Rachel Border's mom lived in Barnes when she went to CMU. When her mom came to visit on Labor Day, Border said the first thing she wanted to do was visit Barnes.
Because of the history, Border thinks they should use the hall for something else instead of tearing it down.
The feeling in Robinson and Barnes is not of despair, but rather celebration. Goffnett said they are celebrating what they call the “final season” of the community. They will be holding community events and selling t-shirts to celebrate the legacy of Barnes.
“We want to celebrate the positive impact that Barnes had on students,” Goffnett said. “What can we do to enjoy this final season, remember it positively, and continue the positives of the community.”