This story originally published online at UNC Media Hub.

Amongst the backdrop of UNC Medical Center, dozens of buildings sit empty. The two-story, brick structures were once the primary graduate student and family housing at UNC-Chapel Hill: Odum Village.

Originally, Odum Village included 47 buildings on South Campus. But since their demolition commenced in 2016, 22 remain. The structures, surrounded by chain link fences with overgrown grass, are the dormitories of the University’s past, raising questions for passersby.

What is the history of Odum Village, what was it like when students lived there and what is the future of this housing community?

History of Odum Village

The University’s highrise style dormitories of Ehringhaus and Craige were constructed in 1962. But, at the beginning of the decade, these buildings were not the only new on-campus living. Odum Village offered an apartment-style option to families and graduate students.

“The community served as the primary housing for married students until the construction of Baity Hill in 2005,” according to a statement from Stephanie Berrier, director of communications and marketing for UNC-CH Finance and Operations.

While the last class of students to stay in Odum Village was during the 2015-2016 academic year, the community housed approximately 500 students, both undergraduate and graduate, before its closure, Berrier said.

Map depicts the original Odum Village, including Community Service & Laundry. This building has since been converted to the Carolina Veterans Resource Center. Credit: Courtesy of Allan Blattner

Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing, described the interior of a typical Odum structure. Upon entering through the front door, residents came to a small corridor. On both sides of the hallway, there were doors to apartment units. Up the stairs, the first floor layout was mimicked.

For buildings with two front doors, they included eight units, a mixture of one and two-bedroom apartments.

Blattner said undergraduate apartments were not popular on college campuses until the early 1980s. Then, “as off-campus apartments started to spring up in greater numbers, campuses started to build apartments in greater numbers in order to keep students on campus,” he said.

“They were never really intended to be around for a long, long time,” Blattner said. “And we certainly got our use out of them. They served a really important piece of Carolina’s history.”

Demolition and repurposing

While the quantity of Odum Village buildings was high, their quality was less so. The buildings were eventually considered not up to code. Specifically, they did not include sprinkler systems, required for all residence halls in 2015 by the UNC System.

While Blattner said temporary permission was granted to use Odum as housing even without sprinklers, the University could meet student needs without the property and decommissioned it.

“It was not cost-effective to provide the utility and building infrastructure to update these buildings, so the buildings were closed to students following the 2015-2016 school year,” Berrier said.

With just over half of the buildings gone, University Architect and Executive Director Facilities Planning and Design Evan Yassky said they have spent $2.9 million on demolition. From this year’s state budget, he said they requested $2.4 million to finish the job.

According to Yassky, reinvestment in the Odum buildings was not financially justifiable.

“Often, as will happen in situations where there’s more of an urgent need that needs to be addressed quickly, the quality of the buildings wasn’t great,” Yassky said. “I would say that the goal was to put up these buildings quickly and easily. And they were never thought to be buildings that would last for 100 years.”

However, a few of the Odum buildings have been repurposed.

With a landscaped yard greeting visitors, the Carolina Veterans Resource Center stands out from the rest of Odum Village. The center occupies what was the Community Service & Laundry hub for the community. Yassky pointed out the addition of a lift to reach the second floor of this building.

Additionally, contractors for the UNC Medical Center’s new surgical tower and the Kenan-Flagler Business School’s additional building use Odum as offices.

But four years ago, the UNC-CH Board of Trustees considered a different use of the Odum Village acreage.

On Dec. 3, 2018, the Board of Trustees met to discuss “the disposition and preservation of the confederate monument” and released their four-part plan on the subject. This meeting was convened approximately four months after the Confederate monument Silent Sam was toppled by protestors.

The plan suggested the creation of a “University History and Education Center” on the Odum Village property, noting the housing’s scheduled demolition.

“This plan requires the construction of a new free-standing, single-use building with appropriate buffers and state-of-the-art security measures, as well as the development of excellent exhibits and teaching materials,” the plan read.

The estimated capital cost for this proposal was $5.3 million, with an additional $800,000 in yearly operating costs.

In response, the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science released an open letter, “Silent Sam Proposal An Affront to Odum Legacy.”

The letter, signed on behalf of the Institute’s staff, highlights the legacy of Howard W. Odum, the founder of not only the Institute, but the UNC School of Social Work and Department of Sociology.

Odum wrote not only about income and education in the South, but “how a legacy of racism and poverty hindered progress in those areas,” according to the letter.

It ends with the words, “Therefore we, the staff of the Odum Institute, also believe that the presence of Silence Sam at a location named for our founder—or anywhere on this campus–is an affront to Dr. Howard W. Odum’s legacy of working for the rights of all citizens to participate freely and equally in society free of discrimination, free of prejudice and free of fear.”

The four-part plan was met with opposition from not only the Odum Institute, but community members and students as well. Taking to Twitter, a “Protest Against Re-Erecting Silent Sam” was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2018.

Moving forward with the Master Plan

Starting their seventh year of vacancy, 22 Odum Village buildings remain. But they are not excluded from the UNC’s Master Plan.

Odum is classified under the Campus South Hub, which includes the construction of spaces for research, entrepreneurship, graduate student housing, student services, retail and recreation, Berrier said.

“The goal is to create a vibrant area of campus that will attract a broad mix of the community,” she said.

Among the ideas for transforming South Campus is the suggestion to realign the road network, according to Yassky.

“It’s not anything like the more northern part of campus, which is a little more orthogonal, like a great network of streets,” he said. “Here, you’re sort of walking on one stream and starts curving around and then, all of a sudden, you’re not sure if you’re facing north or east or west.”

Yassky also mentioned the planned expansion of the utility plant on Manning Drive, in order to supply campus with more chilled water.

At the end of the day, Yassky said construction takes time, as costs are estimated for projects, which are then weighed against other priorities across the University.

“Some of that is just part and parcel of the way the University works,” he said. “It’s not like good or bad; it just is that way. There’s often way more ideas and goals that people have than there’s time and money to achieve those things.”

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