A structural analysis of the Thunderbird Activity Center early this year left the leadership of Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale with a difficult decision: spend a great deal of money to bring the converted World War II hangar up to safety standards, or say goodbye.
“In order to save the building, the structural upgrades we would have to make would cover up all the neat stuff that makes it a historical building,” said Will Counts, project manager. “The architecture of this building is what makes it special, but we can’t save that.”
Counts said the decision was made to demolish the building, though school officials did not come to that decision lightly.
“We had representatives from every department in to provide feedback,” he said. “This was not just a handful of people deciding the hangar was stupid and to tear it down. This was an incredibly difficult decision for us.”
It was difficult for Counts on a personal level, as well. Counts came to the school in 2007 and graduated in 2009.
“When we got here, the tower was sitting there empty,” he said. “It was two other students and myself who led the campaign to restore it. We were able to raise $3 million and now it is back to being an icon on campus.”
In short, Counts came at the Activity Center situation as someone interested in restoration and preservation.
“If I knew how to fix it, I would,” he said. “But there’s no way to do that and still maintain what makes the building special. I’d love to save it, but I can’t.”
What Thunderbird can do, he said, is try to preserve the hangar in some way, even if Thunderbird can only save it in pieces.
“Our plan is to retain some of the lumber and commission someone to make it into furniture that can be placed around campus,” he said. “We don’t want to just throw away our heritage.”
The hangar will be replaced by a temporary structure that will serve the same role as a conference center until funding can be raised for a permanent replacement. The temporary structure is scheduled to be completed by October, and while features such as air conditioning will make it an instant improvement, Counts is still disappointed there was no feasible way to preserve the old hangar.
“We don’t want to lose where we came from, because it’s part of what makes us unique. But at the same time, we can’t keep bringing people in the building if it’s not safe. We have to maintain what we can while also meeting the needs of the school.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.