Jon Mark Beilue: A Big Buff Footprint in Amarillo

 

March 7, 2019

A Big Buff Footprint in Amarillo

Harrington Hall signals major change for WT, city

By JON MARK BEILUE

HAH

The winds of March whistled from the south, from West Texas A&M University, up Tyler Street in downtown Amarillo on Wednesday afternoon to chill a crowd of about 300, which was standing on that old brick street.

But it was more than the late winter wind that was whipping at 30 mph. Figuratively, it was the winds of change that were blowing for both WT and the city of Amarillo. The three-story 20,500-square feet of the University in the heart of downtown was head-shaking proof.

“We are in the midst of a partnership that is going to yield benefits for many many years,” Dr. Walter Wendler, WT president, said. “What stands behind us is an intragenerational commitment.”

What stood at 720 S. Tyler Street was the ribbon cutting of an extreme makeover of an old building and the new and biggest footprint yet for WT in the city that’s 17 miles up I-27 from Canyon.

It’s the Harrington Academic Hall WTAMU Amarillo Center. Say that fast three times. But however it’s said and however it might be shortened in the future, it’s a blending of WT undergraduate and graduate studies in a city full of agencies to which they can partner.

“Amarillo has asked for a downtown center for a long time,” said Dr. Amy Andersen, associate provost for academic affairs, “and we want to be good partners with Amarillo. This is an undertaking that without a doubt will benefit both.”

Harrington Hall was once the Fedway department store until the 1970s. When Fedway left, it became the Commerce building, a glass-filled front of office space with an outdated atrium, old carpet and sometimes an odd smell.

But it had possibilities – especially for the right tenant. 

The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation in 2013 saw a building with possibilities and a university in Canyon that might be receptive. Soon, Clay Stribling, president/CEO of the Amarillo Area Foundation (AAF), got a call and was asked to come to a meeting.

“A vision was laid out for what this could be and established what Amarillo has needed for a long time – a four-year university presence in this city,” said Stribling.

Soon, the AAF was one of three major donors to Harrington Hall. WT had dipped its toe in Amarillo going back to 2009 with classes and the school’s learning disability center in the former Chase Tower, the city’s 31-story building, but it was nothing close to this.

Wiley Hicks, Jr., Inc. was the general contractor, working for nearly two years to transform the building inside and out. It was no cosmetic change, but radical surgery. About the only evidence of the past are the stairs where the escalator from the Fedway days, believed to be the oldest one in Amarillo, used to be.

“This will serve many purposes,” said Dr. Wade Shaffer, provost and vice-president of academic affairs, “but this, after all, is the Harrington Academic Hall.”

On the three floors are programs and classes for both graduate and undergraduate students – about 400 of them – who began attending when the spring semester started six weeks ago.

Harrington Hall houses programs in communication disorders, special education, licensed professional counseling, graduate social work, school psychology and instructional technology for upper level and graduate classes.

It’s also home to the University’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, the Center for Learning Disabilities, the Small Business Development Center, the Panhandle Area Health Education Center and the Buffalo Council. And just to the right after entering the main entrance off Tyler Street is a WT bookstore.

With social programs and classes making up the heart of academia at Harrington Hall, WT will use this new location to work with agencies in the city, agencies more plentiful than what is in Canyon.

Already, the Turn Center, a school for physical, occupational and speech therapy for children in Amarillo, will have dyslexia therapy five hours a day five days a week.

“This gives us an opportunity for great collaboration whether that’s collecting data or research,” said Dr. Eddie Henderson, dean of the College of Education and Social Sciences. “We’re identifying other community partners to work with us in clinical space. It’s a great opportunity to partner with agencies so students can observe.

“It’s a convenience of geography here, and it’s a wonderful place to do this as opposed to a classroom here and a classroom there. The challenge is to make this new space one of value to the community and to our students. This will be a perfect example of a high-impact learning experience.”

WT’s presence in downtown Amarillo is not lost on those who have a stake in the continued revitalization of downtown. Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting was on the same day as groundbreaking for the Barfield building, which is only two blocks away at Sixth Avenue and Polk Street. The building will become the Barfield Marriott, one of the hospitality chain’s boutique hotels.

Add that to the $45 million baseball stadium and the Amarillo Sod Poodles in the Double A Texas League that will open in April, the nearby Embassy Suites and a growing number of restaurants, bars and loft apartments and a once-decaying downtown is thriving.

WT expects to double students and staff at Harrington Hall to 800 in the fall. That’s 800 more that were coming to the center of Amarillo previously. And there’s a possibility the department of nursing could find a new home there as well.

No wonder Beth Duke, executive director of Amarillo’s Center City, Gary Molberg, president/CEO of the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce, and Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson were among those who spoke.

“It has not always been a smooth process to get here,” Nelson said, “but I could not be any more proud to stand in front of a reality that was once a vision.”

 Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

 

—WTAMU—


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John Kanelis
on 3.7.2019

I can't stop thinking of a comment someone once told me: If WT had been put in Amarillo, it would be the size of Texas Tech. Still, the downtown campus is a wonderful addition to WT's presence in the Panhandle.