Building 20 is no more.


That structure was one of the newer ones at The Ridges. The stories vary as to when it was constructed (though it was certainly not part of the original layout) and what it was used for. It is claimed, though I have not been able to confirm it, that it was the place where persons entered with intact brains and departed minus their frontal lobes. It's officially listed as the "receiving area" at the former state mental hospital.

It was out of place among the other buildings there in that many of the others are attractive and seem to have been designed by persons in the possession of a square. Building 20 was weird looking outside and inside. It was a maze of odd angles and strange corridors, and was entirely disorienting. The sanest among us could get discombobulated there; there was no way to avoid it.

Now it has been knocked down. Perhaps the law of averages caught up with the powers-that-be at Ohio University and amid a years-long demolition spree they finally hit – literally – upon a building that deserved it.

If I have a singular dislike for Building 20, it is because it was my privilege and burden to spend a year and a half there – no, not in the role that might first come to mind but instead as a writer for a national nonprofit that had its offices there for a number of years. The privilege was to work with the people I got to work with, while the burden was the location, a warren of rooms, closets and blind alleys in a particularly awful corner of the first floor of Building 20.

The place may have been carpeted or the floor may have been covered by decades of accumulated chewing gum and pocket lint. The ambiance was that of a place where the World War II resistance might have operated, in, maybe, Bulgaria.

The rooms had suspended ceilings. Rare was the tile that wasn’t stained from leakage; in several places the tiles had been eaten away by some sort of mold or ceiling cancer or something. Nor was the leakage a thing of the past. I remember once when building maintenance (a euphemism) came round to deal with a leak. While the ceiling was open, we could see that the leak was coming from old, big cast-iron pipes. Cast-iron pipes do not bring water into a building. They carry water from a building, if you get my drift. Yes, the floors above us were occupied.

When the tiles were not being actually consumed by the leaks, building maintenance would “repair” them by spraying them with white paint, until a new spate of leaks discolored them once more. Then they’d come round with more paint.

The risk (sometimes realized) of coming down with peculiar diseases was only part of the fun.

It’s long been my theory that a special committee of trusted advisors meets daily in a secret room at OU to formulate what can be done that day to make the climate in campus buildings as inhospitable as possible. My further theory is that a subcommittee of that group gathered to provide special torture to the occupants of Building 20.

If my theories are true, the members of that subcommittee should be given some sort of award for efficiency and effectiveness. The temperature and humidity were never conducive to happiness and productivity.

(Well, not for humans. The climate seemed just fine for the thriving population of the largest cockroaches ever spotted outside of Florida. It was suggested that these may have been mutations, irradiated to their terrible size by X-ray machines used in the building in its previous occupation.)

In the winter I worked with people who had to wear gloves, hats and winter coats while working in their cubicles, closets and weird side spaces. In the summer, many of us had electric fans to unhelpfully turn the dead and leaden air into hot gusts.

There was a kind of nice space outside – it’s shown in one of the pictures – which gave the impression that the building itself might be fit for human habitation. Though that outdoor plaza did serve to dissuade us from turning in terror and running away screaming even before we got to work, it was shielded from any cooling breeze. The entry door was next to a sign, “Building 20,” but then we had to follow a long and convoluted corridor for about a block before we got to our offices – which were about 20 feet from aforementioned door.

When we moved out in December 2012 (to take new lodgings in the Innovation Center, which was more habitable and only a short walk from Miller’s Chicken), it took a while to grow accustomed to life in civilized digs. Very soon after we left, a partition was built across the corridor in Building 20 that had led to our offices. Persons entering that area now needed to be outfitted to endure hazardous conditions.

And now Building 20 has been flattened.

Perhaps soon the nightmares will stop.

Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears every Thursday in The Athens NEWS. You can reach him at

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