Friday September 30, 2005
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French Building has unique history, old world flavor

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By Scott Medway / Student Publications

The A. French Building, named after a Pittsburgh industrialist in 1889, was first home to the then new Textile Engineering School.

By Chanchala Kaddi Contributing Writer

Some students are familiar with the A. French Building only as the site of the French computer lab.

Others may just recognize it as the building across from Junior's.

For those who have never been there, the French Building, the original home of the school of Textile Engineering, is located on Cherry Street.

The French Building was constructed in 1899, making it the fourth-oldest building on campus.

Only the Academic Building (Tech Tower), the Shop Building and the Knowles Dormitory were built before it.

The French Building is part of the cluster of historic buildings near East Campus (the Hill District) that have a student-friendly environment.

"It's nice to have a mixture between modern and traditional structures on campus," said Brandi Flanagan, a fifth-year Architecture major.

"It's a refreshing contrast to the new buildings."

"I like to see some older buildings on campus. I think it gives our campus character and charm," said Hillary Coor, a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering major.

The construction of the French Building and the Textile Engineering program are recounted in Engineering the New South: Georgia Tech, 1885-1985, a history of Georgia Tech by Dr. Robert McMath, the former vice provost for Undergraduate Studies and Student Affairs.

It is also presented in Splendid Growth, the library's online exhibit.

During the late nineteenth century, the textile business was growing rapidly in Georgia.

Tech's second President, Lyman Hall, decided that starting a degree program in textile engineering would have wide appeal and increase enrollment.

In 1897, the state legislature agreed to contribute $10,000 to the project if Tech raised an equal amount from other sources.

In 1898, President Hall sent identical letters to Aaron Samuel French, a Pittsburg industrialist, and John D. Rockefeller to request funding for the textile school, promising both that the school would be named after the benefactor.

French donated the funds, and the French Building was completed the following year.

As Hall predicted, the school of Textile Engineering was an immediate success.

More than 125 students enrolled in the program during 1899.

The French Building housed the school of Textile Engineering until 1949, when it was moved to the newly constructed Harrison Hightower building.

The school of Polymer, Fiber and Textile Engineering was moved to its present location, the MRDC I Complex, in 1995.

The current occupants of the French Building are a diverse group.

They include the offices of the associate provost for Institutional Development and the assistant to the vice provost.

The Office of Undergraduate Studies, which handles prestigious scholarships such as the Rhodes and Marshall, and the Office of Assessment are also located there.

The Georgia Tech ADVANCE Institutional Transformation program, a National Science Foundation-sponsored project that promotes the participation of women in science and engineering, is housed in the building.

There are also several classrooms on the first floor of the building.

The basement hosts the French computer cluster, which is noteworthy for being quieter and less hectic than some of the other computer labs.

"Usually you have to wait in line at the library or the Student Center for a computer, but the computer cluster in the French Building is nice and not too crowded," said Gopika Suraj, a second-year Biology major.

Engineering Computing Services also has two classrooms in the building, one of which has CAD workstations.

Students feel that the historical character of the Hill District should be preserved.

"I feel that buildings such as the French Building need to hold onto their roots," said James Turnbull, a second-year Biomedical Engineering major.

"However it does need to be updated with the times in a style and manner that is befitting to its history."

Renovations of the French Building have kept this attitude in mind, both modernizing the building's interior and restoring its exterior.

"About a month ago, a new elevator system that will provide safe and convenient passenger service was installed in the French Building", said Bradley Satterfield, the Campus Architect.

The main entrance was also renovated.

"About two years ago, we completed the Hill Area Landscape Project, Phase Two. We found that the entry steps to the building were in poor condition," he said.

"Architect Steve Cseplo researched historic photographs and designed the stairs that are a near-perfect replica of the original stairs of the building."