Hugh Merrill Hall, which suffered significant tornado damage, will be torn down and rebuilt, Jacksonville State University president John Beehler said Thursday.
The building housed JSU’s School of Business and Industry.
“We have no choice. It’s shot,” Beehler said. “We’re going to rebuild Merrill Hall as a new modern School of Business building.”
Merrill Hall opened in 1970, its lobby featuring a mosaic named the “Fountain of Learning.” Artist Vicente Rodilla designed the mosaic in Spain, according to Anniston Star accounts from the time.
The colorful, 44-foot high work depicts a man drinking from a fountain and the words “sedes sapientiae,” Latin for “seat of wisdom,” along the bottom.
Following the tornado of March 19, Frank Williams, construction manager for Servpro, and his team removed the mosaic piece by piece.
“It took about 18 days for six guys working from 6 to 6 to remove,” Williams said.
Before getting to the mosaic, Williams said his team first removed the center dome from Merrill Hall’s roof and placed scaffolding in front of the artwork. He said this process took a week.
Williams said his team noticed tiles on the mosaic that looked out of place and popped them out. These tiles covered bolts which the team then removed.
“We cut the joints and removed sections,” Williams said.
As the construction workers removed the sections from the mosaic, they numbered each one. Williams said they ended with more than 100 sections.
The tornadoes did not significantly damage the mosaic, Williams said.
“Higher up, some debris hit the feathers,” Williams said, “but the tiles were on the floor.”
Williams took the tiles that had fallen and numbered them according to the section they came from. He then bagged them and put them into the corresponding crate.
“When the university is ready to reinstall it, everything is crated and ready to be moved,” Williams said. “It can be built back as it was.”
It is unclear when or where the mosaic will be reinstalled.
“We have to put it back up, so why don’t we put it up in memory of this event and all the heroes we have from it,” Beehler said.
Beehler said the university does not have any firm plans, but he hopes to build a shrine in honor of the March tornadoes and reinstall the mosaic in that building, not the new Merrill Hall.
“I can’t think of anything that would make more sense to be in that shrine than the mural,” Beehler said.