Kell Hall: From Parking Garage to Quirky Classroom Building
By Elizabeth Klipp
Growing a university smack in the middle of a city takes creativity. For a prime example, consider the story of Kell Hall.
The year was 1945 and the Atlanta Center’s Evening College (now Georgia State University) was enrolling more students than ever before, quickly outgrowing its only classroom building on Luckie Street.
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The school needed more space. But because postwar shortages made new construction unlikely, the school’s director, George M. Sparks, who later became the college’s first president, had to think outside the box. He turned his attention to a six-story parking garage on Ivy Street (now Peachtree Center Avenue) and envisioned what would become Georgia State’s first permanent building on its current campus.
Sparks was able to negotiate a price of $300,000 for the garage and transformed it into classroom space for a third of the cost of constructing a new building. Even better, he did it in less than a year. Classes were moved from the Luckie Street location to the former garage by the following spring, March 1946.
“The acquisition of the Ivy Street Garage and its quick renovation using war surplus was a real coup,” said Laurel Bowen, university archivist. “Kell Hall anchored us on our current campus, encouraged a mushrooming enrollment, and fueled enthusiasm for continued expansion.”
Students and university officials called it the Ivy Street Garage or the Bolling-Jones Building, before it was dedicated as Wayne Kell Science Hall in 1964.
Sparks liked the garage because it had a good amount of space — 180,000 sq. ft. constructed of reinforced concrete. He also saw the ramp ways in the building as an asset for disabled veterans returning from World War II and entering college on the newly passed GI bill.
The winding ramps in the classroom building also became a unique point of pride among students, who named their yearbook “The Rampway.”
Today, students still climb the ramps to get to class or meet with professors. Kell Hall houses classrooms and offices for the departments of chemistry, biology, astronomy and the university’s Imaging Core Facility.
Always looking for ways to keep Georgia State in the black, Sparks leased out parts of Kell Hall in the early days. He set up a sawmill on the fourth floor just after World War II, when lumber was in high demand and north Georgia had plenty of it. Other tenants included Southern Bell Telephone Co., Franklin Tire Co., the Board of Regents, and the teachers’ retirement system. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra rehearsed on the sixth floor at one point.
Even crazier, in the days before animal research protocols, lab turtles had free reign over the science laboratory in Kell Hall.
In a few years, the building will face the wrecking ball. The 80-year-old Kell Hall will be torn down to make way for a large lawn in the center of campus. The space will be a part of a green corridor that is included in the university’s newly created campus master plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of GSU Magazine.