In recent years, I have occasionally enjoyed taking a jog at my alma mater of Baylor School during school vacation times or weekends to reminisce a little and enjoy again the pretty campus I love by the Tennessee River.
But late Friday afternoon when I was over there before the onslaught of students, I wanted to see something new – the former quadrangle/quad area, which has now been converted from asphalt to a landscaped green space.
In other words, the Big Red has become a little more green.
I had read about the work and actually saw it in the very beginning stages a few weeks ago, but this was my first time to examine it since the sod had been put down in recent days.
So I had a different feeling of new excitement as I climbed the same hill I once had as a young Baylor camper and later student to look at it.
And while it will likely be landscaped even further down the road based on drawings, the sod and brick crossing walkways looked nice. And it was a definite change from the previous site.
I am not sure if it is intentional, but the curved brick walkway also makes the part of the green space closest to the flagpole on the southwest end look like the shield-like Baylor logo that has begun being used in recent years.
The overall work is also somewhat similar to what was done a few years ago to one side of the landmark Ayres Hall at UT-Knoxville, where a parking lot was replaced with green space. And the University of Georgia’s old early football field – Herty Field – was also landscaped in recent years on the Old Campus part of the school after being a parking lot for a number of years.
But the green space at Baylor is not all that is changing for the quad. At the northeast end, where old Trustee Hall – a building I admired -- once sat, a nice and sleek new building is nearing completion. It mirrors the traditional look of the mostly Collegiate Gothic Baylor buildings and even has the cornerstone and other adornments from old Trustee, which I hated to see razed. But the new building also has some modern glass enhancements, too.
Currently called simply the Academic Center and costing $14 million, it will be one of the larger academic buildings on campus and will feature another access area up the hill from the east side of campus near the athletic structures. It is to be finished by next month, and I look forward to possibly getting to examine the inside on Alumni Weekend in mid-October.
As a member of the Baylor class of 1978 getting ready to celebrate my 40th reunion this fall, I am also proud to say that fellow classmates Ryan Crimmins, Jeff Morgan and Scott Smith are playing varying leadership roles in all the work. And our class has also helped donate to the green space.
Of course, Baylor is not alone in trying to improve its campus. I happened to be over at rival McCallie School on Saturday morning for the Missionary Ridge Road Race, and I noticed they had cleared a couple of lots near Dodds Avenue as part of their own campus enhancement work.
Good for them, although this lover of old buildings and homes hopes no historically significant structures were torn down in the process.
The Baylor green space work, which is costing $1.1 million, will no doubt be quite different from how that space was once used. Now students or staff might be tempted to sit and briefly rest there, or maybe have an outdoor class. But in the old days, that would of course not been likely.
The roughly 40-yard-by-25-yard tract actually came into existence in its more recent form in 1937, I learned for the first time by looking at former teacher Jim Hitt’s 1971 Baylor history book, “It Never Rains After Three O’clock.”
He wrote that during that summer, an old rough asphalt circle that had been there near Hunter Hall was widened, shrubbery was moved back, and the hilltop was leveled.
Also, the flagpole, which had formerly been at ground level and was closer to where the current academic center is being built, was moved 30 yards back toward the old brick tower, and steps were built near it.
“The setting was arranged so that cadets (when the school was an all-boys military academy) might gather around the flagpole in a semicircle for pep meetings, ‘bull sessions,’ etc.,” Mr. Hitt wrote.
In 2018, the area around the flagpole is also being restored as part of the green space work.
Mr. Hitt added that the quadrangle area was initially gravel in 1937 but later was paved with asphalt. It basically remained that way until this year.
Despite its stark and plain look over the years, though, the asphalt quad managed to find its way into quite a bit of Baylor history. The military cadets would gather up there for drilling for decades until the military curriculum was dropped after 1971, and a number of pep rallies and other student gatherings were also held there.
I remember standing out there one cold day as an eighth-grader in early 1974 when football coach E.B. “Red” Etter hoisted up the trophy Baylor had won for being declared national high school football champions in one poll.
Since it was an obvious inexact poll, I remember coach Etter joking to the students and faculty in his wry manner, “Deserve it or not, we will gladly accept it,” or something along those lines.
Pep rallies had also been held there as well as music dances. The most famous music event held there was probably when Lynyrd Skynyrd – yes that Lynyrd Skynyrd – played at the Baylor commencement dance in 1973 before becoming famous.
I also remember sprinting across the quadrangle on countless occasions after a late morning class to get in the usually long line for food at Guerry Hall at lunchtime.
Plenty of new – and different -- memories are likely to be made on the site for current and future students, too.
In fact, despite the fact that the school is blessed – and no doubt thankful -- to have plenty of green space on its large campus, this tiny tract should still be kind of a crown jewel.