The Geological Sciences Building has had more renovations than most of UTEP’s other buildings. Its history is riddled with controversy and protest; a history with roots grounded in tradition but with a vision for the future. It seems fitting that the building now contains laboratories supplied with the modern equipment to study the earth’s oldest structures, continuing to link the modern and ancient worlds.
When The Administration and Library Building (as the Geological Sciences Building was first called) was first built it caused some faculty members to comment on the building’s architectural disconnect from the dominant Bhutanese architectural design. The Administration and Library building maintained the Bhutanese style with inset windows and battered walls but it was void of the brick friezes and mosaic designs. In 1936 Alford Roos, metallurgist and instructor at the Texas College of Mines (now UTEP) responded in The El Paso Herald-Post about the new building’s design. “As it is, with a number of nondescript types, we have rococo effect, a hotch-potch of heterogeneous miscellany. This want of method to some extent spoils the effect, making it anarchical, architecturally.” In an article in 1937 the writer stated that the facility would be “a slightly modified form of the original buildings.”
In 1955 the building was re-titled the Library with the opening of the Administration Building. In 1958 the interior of the building was remodeled to accommodate more periodicals, books, and collections. The plaque commemorating the 1958 renovation hangs in the original structure’s lobby.
In 1967 the addition to the Library began. The addition was designed to be “U” shaped, connecting to the original library, leaving a courtyard in the center. The exterior of the building was described to be “silo-like” with large round columns thus detaching from the Bhutanese style prominent on campus. The expansion included four wings which had the capacity to hold its 450,000 volumes and several new collections. Nearly everything in the original Library building remained untouched including the reading room, the entrance (now accessible from the courtyard) and the burro mascot inlay in the floor of the foyer.
From the initial sketch all the way through the opening students continued to voice their opinions in The Prospector and El Paso Times. In the El Paso Times, student Byron Sandford stated, “With the addition of this mausoleum facsimile on our Campus, one of the major assets on the Campus is destroyed-that of the traditional Bhutanese architecture.” The Prospector published students’ comments which included very few positive reactions. Some of the remarks were: “the new architecture would probably psychologically change the attitudes of the students,” “I think it is grotesque,” “the column structure is different from any other building,” and “It has taken away the pride which the students have for the Campus.” Nova asked the President of UTEP, Dr. Joseph M. Ray, to comment: “While it will be somewhat different from the other buildings, the new library will be compatible and in harmony with the style of buildings this institution has developed over the 53 years of its history.” Mr. Edwin Carroll, a partner in the architect firm hired to design the addition called the project “a fresh approach [to] the theme of the older and newer buildings on the campus.” Regardless of student protest the Library was constructed as planned and opened on September 16, 1968. This Library remained the functioning library until the new (current) Library was complete in 1984, and the building was renamed the Old Library.
In 1989-1990 UTEP President, Dr. Natalicio commissioned another renovation of the edifice in order to make the building more reflective of the traditional Bhutanese architectural design at the university. The exterior renovation included stuccoing and painting the walls, adding Bhutanese caps to the roof, inserting the brick line on the top-level of the building, and setting in decorative Bhutanese mandalas. As with the previous the renovation, the original library was left virtually unaffected.
In 1990, after the completion of the remodel, the building was renamed the Geological Sciences Building and currently houses the Geological Sciences department. The entry lobby is decorated with geological specimens including a cast from a dinosaur footprint discovered by a UTEP student, fossils, bones, coprolites, gastroliths, petrified footprints, stones, shells, minerals, and gems. Suspended from the ceiling is a fossil of a pterodactyl bought by the department around 1993. The entry way is decorated with a floor inlay bearing a UTEP crest and a life-size sculpture of a miner called “Today’s Miner.” On the other side of the foyer another set of doors lead to the courtyard and the entrance to the original library, presently appearing much as it did when it was built. The inside of the old library, which is currently used as a reading room, is like a window into UTEP’s past, still displaying books on the original wooden bookshelves; the names of classic authors and poets remained scrolled across the top of the walls. The addition of the newer building is as obvious inside as it is from the outside where a literal line separates the old from the new, connected only by a hallway and a name.
[Sources: El Paso Herald Post, July 8, 1937 and September 19, 1398; The El Paso Times, September 30, 1967; Nova, Spring 1967; The Prospector, September 23, 1966, May 5, 1967, and July 25, 1968; Sandra Ladewig, Office Manager of Geological Sciences; The Heritage Commission at the Heritage House. Photos courtesy of Special Collections department of Library.]
Ashley Swarthout was a student in the Masters of Arts in Teaching English program at UTEP. She graduated in May 2013 and is now teaches dual credit at Chapin High School.