Merrill ruins

Large piles of storm-strewn debris can be seen at the rear of Merrill Hall on the Jacksonville State University campus. Complete demolition of the building is scheduled to begin Feb. 1

Jacksonville State University representatives on Friday revealed their plan to demolish Merrill Hall starting Feb. 1, after a dispute over an insurance claim postponed the project.

The building, which housed the university’s business and industry school, was originally scheduled to be demolished over the summer following the March tornado. The delay stemmed from a difference of opinion between JSU and its insurance adjusters regarding what the university is owed for the loss, according to the university’s director of capital planning and facilities, David Thompson.

“The reason that we have not already started the demolition prior to Feb. 1,” he said, “is because we have to agree to what’s called a proof of loss. This would determine the insurance payout for the loss of that property. Our intention is to begin demolition on Merrill unless someone tells us not to.”

Thompson said the institution’s insurance adjuster, who works for a division of the Alabama Department of Finance, has offered less than JSU thinks it deserves for the property, but he said he couldn’t share those numbers. Attempts Friday to reach the insurance adjuster were unsuccessful.

“Since the university has not signed a proof of loss for an amount, we were hesitant to begin the demolition, but we have now come full circle and we’re prepared to move forward,” Thompson said. “We still have not agreed to the proof of loss at this point.”

JSU had insurance coverage of $466 million for all its campus buildings at the time of the storm, according to Thompson, and more than $177 million in coverage for the buildings’ contents.

The dialogue between JSU and its insurance adjuster has been “very open and engaged,” according to Thompson. He said the adjusters are holding strong to their offer and the university is trying to defend what they believe is “fair and just.”

“We honestly feel that we have provided information that really shows a fair and just amount that is larger than what we’ve been given,” he said.

University spokeswoman Buffy Lockette said JSU hopes to have students back in Merrill Hall by the beginning of the 2021 spring semester.

JSU has received renderings from Turner Construction of a design for the new Merrill Hall ahead of its scheduled demolition in February. The construction company has a history of work with the university, including the new recreation center that opens this month, according Lockette.

The home of the university’s school of health and wellness, Wallace Hall, also took damage from the tornado, but Lockette says plans for its renovation have yet to be finalized.

The university is also planning to renovate a portion of Mason Hall, she said, which also sustained damage in the March tornado. That renovation began earlier this week.

The building, which houses JSU’s department of music, will be extended on its southern end, which will require the removal of Naylor Avenue. Lockette said the music department has been in need of new space for some time.