Handball court demolition discussed at commission meeting

Friday, January 18, 2013
The handball court at the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus Thursday, Jan. 17. The court, which University officials say is not structurally sound, was built around 1843 and is the oldest handball court west of the Mississippi River. (ADAM VOGLER)

The old handball court at the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus will in time be dismantled, but the bricks used in its construction will live on, members of the Cape Girardeau Historic Preservation Commission were told at their meeting Wednesday night by Kathy Mangels, vice president for finance and administration at Southeast.

"We felt it was right to go before the commission and let them know what the university's plans were for the handball court," Mangels said in an interview Thursday. "We've always worked with the community when it comes to our projects."

The buttressed, brick handball court, which could have been built in either 1843 or 1853 on the grounds of what was then St. Vincent's College, is showing significant signs of deterioration. Portions of brick are missing in several areas, and in one extreme case there is a hole entirely through the wall. The mortar depth in some places has been reduced three inches.

Mangels said it was pointed out to the commission that improvements to the handball court would not have been cost-effective.

"We were looking at trying to fix something that's unfixable and also would have to add seismic protections in the process," she said. "Even with those protections, the damage to the handball court in an earthquake could be substantial."

Another problem with the handball court is that it sits where the new building that will house academic and residence hall space is going to be located. The building's main entry will be on the south wing of the first floor where the handball court now sits, further necessitating its removal. But Mangels said she told the commission that the Southeast board of regents had in December approved a plan to incorporate salvageable bricks from the court into the design of the new building.

"The regents considered the commitment that went into preserving the old seminary building, so they were certainly aware of the significance of the handball court," Mangels said. "We're looking to use the bricks in the building of the entry in a design that will architecturally mimic the handball court. Also, bricks with historic markings will be incorporated into the building's inside corridor features. We don't want to see everything go away."

The meeting was purely for informational purposes, and there was no action taken by the commission afterward. Richard Withers, commission member, said he believes the last thing the university would do is disrespect one single brick of the handball court.

"I'm very pro-university," Withers said. "I don't look at it as the university tearing down the handball court. I see them as taking it down and using portions of it in the new building. That way the bricks live forever. I don't see anything wrong with that."

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Southeast Missouri State University River Campus, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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