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Regents correct on house plan

We were surprised by the recent announcement that Texas Woman’s University can’t begin planning for the demolition of its University House until the Texas Historical Commission evaluates the property’s historical and architectural significance.

As you may recall, the TWU Board of Regents had approved the demolition of University House — the traditional residence of the head of the university — and the construction of a new residence for the chancellor.

Now we’re told that since TWU is a public university and the house is more than 50 years old, the commission must evaluate the structure’s significance, according to the Antiquities Code of Texas. The building is not a State Antiquities Landmark, so the commission cannot stop the project, just offer suggestions, said Elizabeth Brummett, the agency’s state coordinator for project review.

“If we deem it historically significant, we would certainly encourage them to look at other alternatives to fulfill their goals,” she said.

The house was built in 1954 and designed by Arch Swank, who worked extensively with well-known architect O’Neil Ford. We are told that Ford and Swank worked on several projects in Denton.

A “local concerned citizen” reported the planned demolition to the commission June 20, Adam Alsobrook, a project reviewer for the agency, wrote in an e-mail, and we have a feeling that the O’Neil Ford connection may have played a role.

The board of regents decided unanimously to demolish University House and build a new residence because renovation was deemed to be too expensive and would require replacing plumbing, electrical wiring, the roof and the kitchen.

In an e-mail sent to Donald Strickland, TWU’s director of design and construction services, Alsobrook wrote that the university must notify the commission at least 60 days prior to demolition and that staff would evaluate the historic and architectural significance.

Brenda Floyd, TWU’s vice president of finance and administration, said that the university has not planned the date of demolition but plans to notify the commission of the project.

Floyd said she does not foresee the process interfering with the project or creating additional work for the university, and noted the university has not yet spoken with a commission representative.

We don’t endorse sacrificing history in the name of progress, and if University House had been designed by O’Neil Ford, we might agree with those who feel that the property is worthy of preservation.

However, a property designed by an associate hardly deserves the same consideration, unless there are other circumstances to be considered.

At this rate, any building constructed by workers who knew Ford or hammered a nail in one of his projects could be considered historical. Where do we draw the line?

When a dormitory is deemed unsafe, will it be left to stand and eventually collapse because someone famous may have had a hand its design or construction?

How can the Board of Regents plan for the future growth of the university if members run the risk of having every decision second-guessed while someone considers so-called “historical” value?

In our view, the regents were doing their jobs well by endorsing a plan that they felt was in the best interest of the university, and they should be allowed to continue.