Momentous Move-Out:
Faculty and students pack up and head out of Gilman Hall until 2010

It took 10 decades to amass the great volume of books, papers, furniture, and more in Gilman Hall, but just a week to empty it all.

The beginning of June marked the momentous closing of the Homewood campus' flagship building until 2010, the scheduled completion of Gilman's massive renovation. And before the doors could close, the building's occupants had to move out.

In early May, faculty and departmental offices began filling with boxes—of books and papers, office supplies, files, and personal items. Boxes stacked on desks, on the floor, and on every available flat surface. Faculty, staff, and students spent weeks combing through their offices to determine what to pack and what to discard.

By mid-month, Gilman's halls resembled a tag sale. Stacks of books, magazines, shelves, lamps, and other items stood "free to a good home," as a sign atop a pile read.

Tristan Davies, a senior lecturer in the Writing Seminars, took full advantage. Among his finds were six books (all classics) and a 50-year-old Hopkins pennant. He carefully removed the nameplate from his office door as a souvenir.

"Something must be wrong with me," Davies pointed out. "Everyone else is discarding things, and I'm here adding to my pile [laughs]. I'm one of those odd people who goes through others' detritus, I guess."

Davies did get rid of some things. In the bottom of a drawer, he discovered some colorful plastic discs, from a child's game perhaps. "I had no idea what they were, actually, and I just threw them out," he said. Then, at a graduate student's party the very next day, Davies ran into a young woman who remembered visiting his office as a child and giving him a toy. "It dawned on me that this is what I found in my drawer yesterday and discarded. Now what are the chances of that?"

P.M. Forni, a professor of Italian literature and co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, said the move allowed him to reconnect with his past, too.

"There was something archaeological about it," said Forni, who had been in his second-floor office in Gilman for 15 years. "Different levels of items in my offices corresponded to different decades. It gave me a sense of how much life I had lived, and also how quickly it has gone by."

Forni, who took about a month to clear out his office, found letters from his private and academic life, postcards from friends and students, and keys to unknown doors. "There were also many traces of roads not taken," he said. "When you go through this material you inevitably start thinking about what your life would have been like if you had taken a different direction at one point. It's a time to take stock in your life and of all your decisions."

The move began the day after Commencement. Alexander's Mobility Services helped relocate the nearly 200 faculty, staff, and graduate students to Dell House, the former apartment building at the corner of Charles and 29th streets that will be their home for the next two years. Faculty from the History of Art Department, which had been in Mergenthaler Hall, also moved to Dell in a reunion under one roof of all 10 of the school's humanities departments--just as they will be in the renovated Gilman.

After considering other locations--one option was trailers in the parking lots at Johns Hopkins at Eastern--the school ultimately chose Dell House because it offered a full complement of offices and seminar rooms, and was within walking distance of other campus buildings.

"We also wanted to keep all the humanities departments together," said Martin Kajic, Gilman project manager for the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to seminar rooms in Dell House, classroom space has been secured in Dunning Hall, the Mattin Center, and even Shriver Hall, where a former security office has been transformed into a classroom.

The Hutzler Reading Room, the perennial 24-hour study spot in Gilman, closed May 15 with a farewell party, but the Eisenhower Library across the quad will employ a 24-hour schedule in the fall and spring to make up for the lost space. Homewood Student Affairs is also working on finding a HUT-like study home for students.

To celebrate the move-out and the next phase of the renovation, the school hosted a "ceremony of the keys" on June 2. Deans and other faculty, members of the school's advisory board, donors, and even Daniel Coit Gilman himself attended the invitation-only event. The "spirit" of the university's first president (portrayed by actor Christopher Graybill) handed over the building's keys--ceremonial cast-iron ones--to a representative of the project's construction firm, Bovis Lend Lease.

With the building emptied of people, the construction crews can now complete the renovation in an uninterrupted, final phase.

Forni, now in his new office on the fourth floor of Dell House, said the move and purge has done him good.

"I feel much lighter now," he said. "I also feel rejuvenated. In a sense, this is a new beginning, and I look forward to spending my time here in Dell House. I think a new environment can start new thoughts and I'm eager to see what kind of new insights come from working here."

 

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