For 45 years, the Belk Tower has been the meeting landmark for students and visitors to UNC Charlotte.
As the centerpiece of the university’s “free speech zone,” dozens of protests, remembrances of fallen student or faculty members and celebrations either started at the 142-foot-tall tower or ended there. Itinerant preachers spread the gospel there. Students caught rays between classes there.
After the Christmas holidays, they’ll have to find another place. The white, iconic ribbed tower that soars above the old UNCC campus is coming down.
That was the stunning news Chancellor Phil Dubois delivered Friday to students, faculty and graduates.
Dubois said in a letter to the UNCC community that university and outside consulting engineers recently found the structure so deteriorated that it posed a safety risk and he “in consultation with a unanimous Board of Trustees,” determined that construction fencing would be put around the tower immediately to create a safety zone.
Over the holiday break, the structure will be dismantled in December.
The tower – its top has been described as the tip of a quill pen – consists of “concentric concrete doughnuts” that are stacked on each other and held together by metal plates, Dubois told the Observer.
“Those plates have deteriorated over time because of water intrusion,” he said. “It also had a host of electrical issues. It is 45 years old.”
It’d take about $1 million in repairs to make it safe, he said.
Removing the tower will trigger an opportunity for the university community to redesign the quadrangle formed by surrounding buildings and create a more functional gathering space, Dubois said.
It’s where students gather. It’s where students form their views The things everyone misses after they graduate happened at the Belk Tower.
Corbin Peters, UNCC class of 2014, on the Belk Tower coming down
UNCC will hire a landscape architect to lead the redesign. Dubois said the architect will convene several discussions with students, faculty and staffers to get ideas about the space.
He said they may want to preserve parts of the tower, particularly the top, along with the carillon that chimes the school’s fight song.
“We want to take a little time to think about what we’re going to do with the space,” Dubois said.
He hopes it will be complete by fall 2017.
The tower was once the center of the campus that began to sprout 10 miles from uptown in 1961. Nine years later, the tower, symbol of a young and growing university, was dedicated to department store executive Irwin Belk and his three brothers – John, Thomas and Henderson – who donated the money to create a central quad.
That center has been diverted to the new student union.
Dubois said he got support from the Belk family – generous contributors to UNCC – before making his announcement Friday.
The news saddened many graduates.
Corbin Peters of Charlotte, a 2014 UNCC graduate, said he understands his alma mater has budget priorities, but he hoped alumni or a private donor would donate money for the repairs.
“It’s where students form their views,” Peters said. “The things everyone misses after they graduate happened at the Belk Tower. A great many of us would be sad to see it go.”