Stop Merrill

A stop sign holds up a leaning fence surrounding Jacksonville State University’s Merrill Hall, which was heavily damaged in the March 19 tornado last year. Despite a contract being awarded last June to a Cullman County company to raze the structure, what’s left of the building is still untouched.

Jacksonville State University’s most-damaged building remains in ruins, 10 months after the March 19 tornado that ravaged the campus, a condition school officials haven’t explained.

Merrill Hall, home of JSU’s School of Business and Industry, was in the path of the EF-3 twister, which struck while school was out for spring break. In the weeks after the storm, the university turned the vacant former campus of Kitty Stone Elementary School into a temporary home for the school. Officials have called Merrill Hall “unsalvageable,” and an $18.1 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to help replace it was announced in October. University officials said at the time that would cover about 75 percent of the rebuilding cost.

JSU administrators in June awarded a $492,000 contract to raze the building to Britt Demolition and Recycling of Hanceville, said officials at the time, who added that the work would begin “in a couple of weeks.”

But on Thursday, the ruined structure still stood. The building is still encompassed by a padlocked, chain-link fence. It’s also missing large sections of its roof and the round front wall had much of its glass shattered.

After several requests this week, university officials had provided no information about the reason Merrill Hall remains in its post-storm condition. Attempts to reach officials with Britt Demolition and Recycling this week were also unsuccessful.

Before any demolition work begins, the university will start planning to replace Merrill Hall, according to university officials.

Mark Stephens, the city of Jacksonville’s planning and development director, said Thursday that JSU isn’t required to seek demolition or construction permits from his office.

In October the university said it hoped to have Merrill Hall’s replacement constructed within three years.

At least one piece of Merrill has been removed. The 44-foot high mosaic that once overlooked the building’s foyer had been removed by Mayand placed in storage until it can be reinstalled somewhere else.

JSU moved much more swiftly to demolish another heavily damaged campus building. The Alumni House, housed in a converted antebellum home, lost much of its second story in the storm. A crew knocked down the rest of the building in a day in June.

On Thursday JSU spokeswoman Buffy Lockette said in text message she was unable to gather any information for The Star’s inquiries.