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Leo Hall gets new look, becomes ADA-friendly

Lauren Creiman
News Editor

Recently completed renovations to Leo Hall, which have updated its aesthetics and made it accessible to students with disabilities have also evoked feelings of loss among some faculty.

The facelift included the removal of crumbling tufa stones from the building walls.

“These tufa stones are a part of a 3,000-year-old Armenian history,” George Keeler, professor of journalism said. “The stone represents their national values, culture, heritage, identity and homeland.”

The tufa stones were replaced with colored concrete along the wall, while the stones around the windows and doors were sealed with a paint primer.

The most recent renovations of the three-part project also included improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The updates included adding an ADA ramp and railing west side of the exterior; replacing the fixtures, paint, countertops and partitions in the first- and second floor restrooms; and adding ADA signs and new handrails in the stairways.

Before the building was purchased by the University of La Verne in 1994, Leo Hall served as the center for the American Armenian International College.

AAIC, an affiliate school of ULV, offered students from Armenia and Lebanon an opportunity for higher education not available in their native lands.

The college was the first Armenian college of its kind in the United States, according to Keeler.

In 1985 former city of La Verne mayor Jon Blickenstaff visited Armenia and was inspired to request a small amount of tufa stones to be incorporated into the design for the AAIC building.

The Armenian government donated an unprecedented gift of 44 tons, approximately 5,000 slabs, of Armenian pink tufa stone in 1988.

Tufa, a volcanic rock with a distinctive salmon pink color that is found only in the mountains of Armenia, is usually reserved for construction of churches, government buildings, schools and monuments.

This was the first time that the tufa stone, which is considered the closest thing to a national stone, had been shipped out of Armenia, former president of the AAIC Garbis Der Yeghiayan said in an interview with the Campus Times in 1988 when news of the gift was first covered.

“Given the history of the acquisition of the stone, its significance to the people of Armenia and its extreme architectural value, there should have been lengthy discussions regarding the removal of the stone from the building,” Keeler said. “I can only hope that such discussion took place.”

According to Assistant Director of Capital Planning Valerie Phillips, such a discussion did happen among Capital Planning Executive Committee members, who approved the recent work on Leo Hall renovations in February 2011.

“We tried to salvage as much of the tufa stone as possible,” Phillips said. “Unfortunately because tufa is a porous and brittle stone, most of it fell apart as it was being removed.”

Phillips also said that the porous nature of the stone was causing leaks and dry rot in the building.

Keeler said that he hoped the faculty were involved in the discussion through the Space Committee.

Associate Vice President of Facility and Technology Services and Space Committee member Clive Houston-Brown said that although the project was discussed in general in the committee, he does not recall if the tufa stone removal ever came up.

“After plans had been submitted to the City and approved, a question was raised about whether the tufa stone could all be salvaged,” Houston-Brown said. “In the original plan, all tufa stone was to be removed because of how damaged it was.”

However, Houston-Brown also said that an electronic discussion then took place between Facility and Technology Services staff and faculty to determine what portions of tufa stone should be removed or remain in place.

Although a majority of the tufa stones had to be removed from the exterior of the building because of the damage, those in the entry of Leo Hall remain in place.

“(The stones) will be a permanent symbol of our cultural and enduring values,” Der Yeghiayan said when the stones were first installed.

“There was incredible sacrifice to build this building, financially, spiritually and physically,” Keeler said. “I understand things change and renovations were necessary. As long as there was thoughtful discussion regarding the removal of the tufa stone, I am at peace with the decisions that were made.”

Lauren Creiman can be reached at lauren.creiman@laverne.edu.

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