Renovation plans for UH's Agnes Arnold Hall
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HOUSTON — The University of Houston announced plans to renovate and reopen a campus building that has been the site of multiple suicides in the past few years.
The school budgeted $38 million to make improvements to Agnes Arnold Hall.
Until this Spring, 450 classes were held in the building each week. The beige brick building on the western side of the UH campus hasn't held classes for three months. In March, students and staff were relocated to other classrooms. A black metal fence was installed to keep people out. Green banners displaying crisis hotline numbers were hung. Memorials were created for the students who died at the building by suicide.
"He went to school ... it was a normal Monday," Jacob Medina said. "Then, we got the call that changed everything."
In March, Medina spoke with KHOU 11 News about the death of his brother, 19-year-old UH freshman, Tyler Medina.
"I personally believe if my brother didn't have access to Agnes Hall, he would have had a chance to call someone," Medina said. "It would have changed his decision. It was too quick of a decision and too accessible."
This week, the recommendations from the Agnes Arnold Hall task force were made public. Task force members considered demolishing the building because of its suicide "contagion legacy" but ultimately advised against it. The report states demolition would cost between $10 million and $15 million. Constructing a new building would cost more than $160 million and could take years to complete.
Instead, the task force decided the best course forward would be to spend $38 million securing and making renovations to the existing building. The three-phase project will include the screening of the upper-level balconies, inner stairwells and sky bridges, along with barriers that "would prevent persons from jumping from the building."
Renovations will also address mechanical, electrical and plumbing issues, as well as improve aesthetics inside and outside of the building.
In addition to the task force for the building, other task forces were created to address mental health services on campus. It was determined that the university will start designing spaces throughout the campus dedicated to mindfulness and meditation. Three new mental health counselors will be hired and students will now have 24/7 access to mental health services. The university's counseling and psychological services will soon get a space inside the student center, making it more visible.
Medina shared a message after reading some of the proposed changes: "It's devastating that these changes weren't made years ago after the first student death, but I am glad they are renovating the building to make it safer and expanding CAPS. It seems like a good start toward a better long-term solution. I hope school leadership will continue to analyze their role in making the students feel safe on campus. The direction of spending university resources on the mental health of their students is the responsibility of the university. We feel a sense of relief for the UH student body as their administration begins stepping into that role, and expect it to continue and grow as time passes."
Students will return to the Agnes Arnold Hall building for classes this fall semester. Every part of the building will be open except for the basement, where the students who died were found.
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