February 19 Dorm Implosion to Make Room for Hospital Expansion
Jan. 30, 2006 | The student dormitory at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), set for implosion Feb. 19, was a first home for newlyweds, the first home away from home for many and a gathering place for countless medical, nursing, pharmacy and other students for more than 45 years.
The 10-story dorm, built in the late 1950s for $2 million, will be imploded to make room for a major hospital expansion. The adjacent Jeff Banks Student Union will be torn down before construction of the hospital addition begins this summer.
Kent Westbrook, M.D., a distinguished professor in the Department of Surgery of the UAMS College of Medicine, spent his honeymoon in the dorm with his wife, Jonnie.
“We were married Aug. 13, 1961, and moved into the dorm that day,” Westbrook said. “It was brand new at the time and I thought it was really great.”
The Westbrooks lived in a two-room apartment on the eighth floor for two years. Their first child, daughter September, who is now a Little Rock pediatrician, was born while they lived in the dorm.
“We didn’t have a crib for her initially, so we pulled a drawer out of the chest of drawers and made a bed for her.”
The dorm featured the pumpkin-colored brick and design matching other buildings on the UAMS campus. It opened in July 1959 to students in all of the UAMS programs offered at the time, including the medicine, nursing, pharmacy, medical technology, and X-ray technology programs, along with graduate students and medical interns and residents. The dorm and student union offered a meeting place as well as living quarters, with a coffee shop, game room, music room and space for special events.
The dorm was built to accommodate 315 single students and 95 married couples with a mix of traditional dormitory-style rooms and efficiency apartments. Until 1975, first year students were required to live in the dorm.
For many summers while students were away, dorm rooms were rented to the public. The temporary occupants included architects, police officers, all-star high school football players, “and, of course insurance salesmen,” according to a 1960 story in the Arkansas Democrat. The rooms were rented to help pay off the federal loan that funded dorm construction.
Max Baker, Ph.D., a radiology professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, stayed in the dorm while in graduate school. After living at home as an undergraduate, the dorm was his first home away from home. He remembered spending a lot of time in the coffee shop, where he said one could almost always find other students and UAMS employees sipping coffee.
“A lot of us students didn’t have a lot of money, so we stayed at the coffee shop,” said Baker, who graduated in 1970. “You could get a really good hamburger steak for 85 cents and all the fried onions you could eat. I lived on that.”
Baker also spoke of unsanctioned uses of the large window ledges. He said it seemed every year the fire department made at least one trip to the dorm because someone had a grill going out on the ledge. Then there were the times, in the days before tanning beds, when some students would tan on the ledges.
Jeff Banks was a longtime and much-liked anatomy professor in the College of Medicine when he died in 1959. The just-opened student union was named in his memory.
“Dr. Banks was a very effective and outstanding professor and naming the union for him was a fitting tribute,” said Roger B. Bost, M.D., who was one of Banks’ students in the 1940s. “He was a bright light in the clinical arena who stood out as one of the best professors we had.”
Bost, who served from 1965 until his 1998 retirement as a professor and later chairman of the Department of Pediatrics of the UAMS College of Medicine and director of the state Department of Human Services during the administration of former Governor Dale Bumpers, credited Banks as a springboard for the continued growth of UAMS. Bost’s son, Roger K. Bost, M.D., a Missouri pediatrician, was a dorm resident while in medical school during the 1960s.
The union hosted numerous events over the years, from the recent sales of Aromatique decorative products to art exhibits – including one featuring rare medical prints by Rembrandt, Raphael and Goya. For several years, the UAMS Medical Center Auxiliary operated a “swap shop” in the union, selling items to raise money for various projects.
Robert and Joetta Galbraith, who both graduated from medical school in 1968, also had their first home as a married couple in one of the dorm’s apartments. Robert had originally moved into a dorm room in 1962 while a graduate student in microbiology, staying there through medical school.
“It’s hard to put into words what living in the dorm was like, but all of the words bring fond memories,” Robert Galbraith said. He said an advantage of the dorm was that there were many opportunities for students and medical residents to interact informally because of the close proximity of the dorm to the hospital, library and classrooms.
“We think having that sense of community that developed among those in the dorm helped most of us understand better the depth and breadth of medical practice.”
Jane Gault, Pharm.D., chief of pharmacy services for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System in Little Rock and an adjunct professor in the UAMS College of Pharmacy, agreed that the dorm fostered camaraderie among students. A 1971 graduate, she lived in the dorm during the 1968 school year.
“There was a group of us that ate together in the coffee shop downstairs almost every night before we broke up into study groups,” Gault said, adding that many of her class still get together each year.
Like any college dorm, she said, it could be noisy, so she got her best studying accomplished alone in her room, where during study breaks she would play jacks, a game she picked up in her youth.
“The guys that lived below me thought I was dragging chains along the floor,” she said.
Following the dorm implosion and demolition of the student union, construction will begin on a 500,000-square foot addition to the UAMS Medical Center. The hospital expansion, with an adjacent parking deck and the Psychiatric Research Institute, are focal points of the ongoing $255 million UAMS campus expansion initiative.
The hospital addition is expected to be completed in late 2008. A new $14 million residence hall, now under construction, is expected to be finished by fall 2006.