Bowling Green State University wants to demolish an old house across the street from the main campus so that it can build a new student health center. Before university officials call in the wrecking crew, they should make sure they are not tearing down an important piece of history.
The house now is home to BGSU's popular-culture department, which is joining three other departments in a new school of cultural and critical studies. Some members of the department say they are upset they were not told directly about the plan to raze the house and were given little time to prepare for the move.
More important, the house may -- or may not -- be a Wardway home, one of about 25,000 kit homes sold by Montgomery Ward Co. between 1919 and 1931. Sears Roebuck and other companies also sold thousands of do-it-yourself homes. It is unclear how many of these homes, which occupy an important niche in American culture, still exist.
The house across Wooster Street from historic Hanna Hall was the home of four BGSU presidents -- R.E. Offenhauer, Frank Prout, Ralph McDonald, and Ralph Harshman -- after the university bought it in 1937. In 1963, incoming President William Travers Jerome III decided that it was not grand enough for a university's top administrator.
Since then, the house has been renovated almost beyond recognition and used as the alumni office and, for four decades, the home of the popular-culture department. It has been altered to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is unclear whether it could be restored to its original design.
The house also is BGSU's oldest remaining presidential residence. The home of the university's first president, Homer Williams, was demolished in 1973 and its site turned into a parking lot.
BGSU only recently began talks with Wood County Hospital about working together to build and run the new health center. Construction likely is months away. So why the rush to tear down the former presidential residence?
University officials say they want to raze the structure now to minimize disruption when students return for fall classes. But demolition of a small building that is not on the main campus likely would not inconvenience students, even on move-in day.
BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey says she values inclusiveness in decision-making. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment.
Who better than the popular-culture department to address these questions: Is this a Wardway home? How many of the tens of thousands of such houses that were built are still standing? Does the house's historic and cultural value outweigh its potential renovation costs?
There will be plenty of time to tear down the house if it proves to be of little significance. But once destroyed, it will be impossible to undo the damage if the building should have been preserved.