DSU demolishes Lydia Laws Residential Hall: to be replaced by ‘new and improved’ building

Demolition of historic Lydia P. Laws Hall at Delaware State University morning. The entire project is expected to take about a month, including cleanup, to make room for a new dormitory. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Memories last a lifetime, some buildings don’t.

Delaware State University’s plan expand and modernize its campus continued Thursday morning as the controlled demolition of Lydia Laws Residential Hall commenced with a crane knocking down an outside wall.

Over the next five weeks, the 56-year-old, three-story structure will be toppled to make space for a new and improved 200,000 square foot, five-story dormitory scheduled to open in August 2019. Also scheduled for destruction is the nearby Tubman Hall.

The $70 million project began on a warm and sunny morning as the crane relentlessly grabbed and pulled at the building’s roof and pushed in walls at a steady pace before interested school officials, construction company members and media. A large stream of water poured from the roof as the work began in earnest.

The project will also eliminate more than $15 million in deferred maintenance for Laws and Tubman halls, DSU said.

Now the executive director of alumni relations at her alma mater, Marcia Taylor momentarily gathered herself emotionally before reminiscing about her time spent living at the dormitory as a freshman arrival from Wilmington in 1981-82.

“It was a great introduction to the University life and it offered a very protective environment designed to look out for the student’s safety and well being. There were two house moms living here and students had to sign out before leaving the campus grounds.”

Ms. Taylor recalled dancing with her dorm mates in the hallway to Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” blasting from a stereo inside somebody’s room, and the lifelong friendships formed through the bond of a first college experience together that continue today.

“There’s some sadness on one hand, but optimism on the other because the University is growing and we need room for the lots of students who want to live here,” Ms. Taylor said. “There’s a great and growing interest in wanting to take part in the experience of becoming a Hornet and there has to be a place where they want to stay instead of possibly choosing to go somewhere else.”

Norman Oliver served as a resident assistant in the all-female dormitory in 1982, and his company Rock Solid Contracting firm spearheaded the demolition effort, partnered with Wohlsen Construction. Mr. Oliver graduated from then Delaware State College in 1985 after a stint as Student Government Association president, and later joined the board of trustees.

Marcia Taylor, DSU executive director of alumni relations.

As the crane started its engine to begin cracking open the exterior, Mr. Oliver professed to be struck by a mixed state of nostalgia and reality that the building had to go for the sake of future school success. Mr. Oliver’s family roots run deep, with his aunt and uncle, two brothers and a sister having attended DSU.

“I’ve laughed and joked with others about all the good times and stories that happened within the building that’s now coming down, so this is kind of a sentimental moment for all of us,” he said. “My phone has been blowing up with text and messages about it today and the last few days really.”

The yet to be named new dormitory will include 620 beds, a 100-seat dining facility, air conditioning, study lounges and community spaces, enhanced capacity and accessibility for electronic devices and more. A DSU news release described a “ground floor innovation center that will create a critical connection between the University’s academic programs and student affairs.”

“The new facility will support the living and learning experience that students are seeking today,” DSU Assistant Vice President of Capital Planning J.D. Bartlett said.

The former Laws dorm had 110 beds.

DSU staff and former students recording the demolition of Laws Hall with their cameras Thursday.

Mr. Bartlett noted that the project has surpassed its goal of 10 percent involvement by minorities, veterans, women and disabled veterans-associated contractors and stakeholders and DSU aims to grow that number in the coming weeks and months.

“There’s a great emphasis in providing opportunity for some groups that might not otherwise be considered elsewhere, and their inclusion here allows them to gain experience that will benefit them during other future endeavors and opportunities that may come about,” Mr. Bartlett said.

The dormitory was named after Delaware native Lydia Laws, who spent 17 years in Dover at the State College for Colored Students as a faculty member and oversaw the female residential Lore Hall during her stay.

J.D. Bartlett, DSU associate vice-president for capital planning.

According to DSU officials Thursday, cornerstones and some bricks from Laws Hall will remain and her memory will be preserved.

According to research done by current DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes, former DSU President William Jason wrote the following about Miss Laws after the departed the school in a 1913-14 annual report.

“But the name most familiar from long association and the person most efficient during seventeen years of service will be conspicuous by absence. Miss Lydia P. Laws relinquishes her duties as teacher and Matron to preside over a home of her own.

“She leaves a vacancy difficult to fill, but none who knows of her good work here, but wishes her joy in the new life.”

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