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"Temporary Buildings" [Sheep Sheds I]


Opened: 1925
Removed from Campus: 1952

Although the name "sheep sheds" was eventually applied to the post-WWII barracks that were installed to house the swelling numbers of veterans on campus, the original "sheep sheds" were a group of temporary buildings dating from the 1920s. Following the disastrous 1925 fire that destroyed the old administration building, the Togan-Stiles Company of Grand Rapids constructed three 100-foot structures on the main campus mall, between the site of the administration building and the area where College Avenue (now University) ended. The buildings, which were constructed in just 16 days, housed the college administration until the completion of the new administration building (now Warriner Hall) in 1928.

Although the three buildings were designed to be temporary, they saw a wide variety of uses over the next fifteen years. The buildings served as temporary classrooms and housing throughout the period. After the administration moved into its new headquarters, several proposals for repurposing the vacated building were suggested. These included a kitchenette for the Dormitory Council, parking spaces for the newspaper, and a club house for the Janitors Association. College officials even heard a request from the agriculture department for a new chicken coop. In the end, all three buildings were repurposed for classroom and cafeteria space. One building was relocated at this time to a new site east of the main campus, while the others remained in place.

The remaining two buildings on the main campus continued to serve as temporary space for a wide variety of activities. After a fire at the training school on January 8, 1933, the north temporary building was converted into a manual arts shop, complete with new equipment. Construction crews added cement foundations to support heavy machinery, as well as office and stock rooms. The front part of the renovated building was improved to house the woodworking department, while the rear section was divided into a simulated household, a sheet metal room, and a wood finishing room. An outdoor platform was also added adjacent to the north part of the building for cement work. The south building was also remodeled in 1934 to provide space for a gymnasium for the college elementary school, as well as a rehearsal room for the Appleblossom Club. In 1935, a nursery was added to the north temporary building that could house up to 30 children ages 2 to 5.

Although the temporary buildings served the needs of the College admirably, they were popular targets of scorn among both students and faculty on campus. The buildings, which were considered eyesores, were given the name "sheep sheds" and were often referred to as such in the campus newspaper. To make matters worse, the buildings were located on the main part of campus, blocking the forward view from the new administration building down College Avenue. Students and faculty called for their removal shortly after their construction and continued complaining about the buildings throughout their existence. In the spring of 1937, the College Democrats included the removal of the buildings in their successful election campaign. Their plans were approved by the College administration and the process of removal started immediately.

The College still required the space provided by the buildings, so relocation of the buildings was preferred over removal or demolition. The project would cost an estimated $500, which was raised through donations from faculty, administration, the men's union, and the student council. Students also helped fund the operation by purchasing tickets in support of the removal, which could later be redeemed for a special matinee at the Broadway Theatre. The College hired Lloyd Cole, a local carpenter-contractor, to prepare the buildings for the move, and Nelson Simmons of Mt. Pleasant was in charge of actually moving the buildings.

CMU0000257.jpgRelocation of the sheep sheds took place on Commencement Day, June 21, 1937. Each building was first sawed into three separate sections before being moved on a trailer pulled by a tractor. The move was hindered by bad weather and low hanging power lines on Bellows St. Several trees had to be removed from the future locations of the buildings. One of the temporary buildings was placed parallel to the Industrial Arts building, south of the training school and north of the power plant (in the general area of Smith Hall today). The second building was relocated to a small grove across South Franklin from the heating plant (near the northern end of Finch today). One third of the building north of the heating plant was unneeded in the new location and was removed from the structure. It was given to the Appleblossom Club by the College for their campsite at Wixom Lodge near Edenville, where they planned to construct a recreation hall. After the "sheep sheds" had been removed, the campus community had its first unobstructed views from the administration building across the main campus and up College Avenue in over a decade.

In January 1941, the College announced plans to build a new girl's dormitory across the street from the heating plant. This building, which would become the original Ronan Hall, would be constructed on the site of one of the relocated "sheep sheds." Administrators announced that the temporary building would once again be relocated, this time an area west of Alumni Field. Two buildings were moved to the site near Alumni Field, while the third remained on the main part of campus. The temporary buildings served as the home of the campus newspaper, practice space for band members, and a Veterans Administration center.

Final removal plans were not carried out until 1952, when school officials announced the removal of the temporary buildings from campus. However, they were not simply razed. Two of the three temporary buildings were handed over to the State Corrections Commission and relocated to a forest in the northern part of the state, where they were used to house prisoners working there. According to a student working for the newspaper at the time, "temporary buildings never die; they just get moved elsewhere." Although the physical buildings were removed from campus by 1941, the term "sheep sheds" was readily applied to the new temporary structures installed as part of "Vetville" following the end of the Second World War. The last of these sheep sheds, also designed as temporary structures, was not removed from campus until the late 1980s.