From the outside, the most striking features of  ETU’s DuBose Aquatics Center are the bas-relief carvings of sailing vessels and divers which frame the entrance. Students who answer the carvings’ call to adventure find a pleasant but less ostentatious interior. The single-story building offers a training pool for diving and swimming, as well as an Olympic pool with two sets of bleachers. The adjacent outdoor recreational pool is popular with students in the late Spring and early Fall semesters but during the Summer the sun’s rays heat the shallow water to the temperature of a warm bath. At that point students who are desperate to beat the heat usually retreat to the “Lost Pond”, a natural, spring-fed pool in the heart of Pinebox green space known as Crenshaw’s Woods.

Although construction of the the Aquatics Center was completed in 2004, the entrance’s distinctive bas-relief carvings harken from the school’s original natatorium which had been built in Neo-Classical style. The original natatorium was the last campus building to be completed prior to the Great Depression and by the time money finally loosened up again after WWII, architectural trends had changed. Its distinctive, classical design (as well as cool waters) made it a beloved campus landmark. While the outside boasted bas-relief carvings of wooden sailing ships, sea creatures, and brave divers, the interior was every bit as impressive. An enormous statue of King Neptune loomed over visitors in the lobby and both indoor pools were lavishly decorated with murals depicting lifelike mermaids and other sea creatures which alternately beckoned or threatened swimmers.

Sadly, in the late 1950s the beloved natatorium suffered from a seismic event that rendered it structurally unsafe. Administrators arrived to work one morning to find numerous puddles throughout the building and both pools cracked and half-empty. Engineers determined that the soil beneath the foundation had shifted, causing in effect a “mini earthquake”. Not only were the pools cracked, but the foundation and walls as well. Tragically, the beautiful murals overlooking the pools experienced some of the most violent structural damage, looking practically smashed in places. Although the building was condemned for safety reasons and eventually destroyed, students mounted a campaign to save as much of the old building as possible. Unfortunately, with the murals destroyed and the statue of Neptune misplaced in the confusion, little remained that could be salvaged except the bas-relief designs.  These were carefully removed and placed in storage until a replacement natatorium could be built. Ironically, the old site didn’t stay vacant for long. After many surveys and much bulldozing, the Ravens basketball arena–the Roost–was constructed on the site of the old natatorium in the early 60s.

Yet, for nearly 50 years campus politics and shifting priorities pushed a replacement natatorium down the priority list. During this period the swim team trained on open water at Lake Greystone, about which the less said the better. Let’s just say it was “character building”. It wasn’t until a wealthy alumnus with fond memories of the natatorium left a donation for a replacement that a proper swimming facility finally returned to campus. A university archivist eagerly directed architects to the still-warehoused bas-reliefs, allowing designers to create a building that acknowledged earlier times. Sadly, other than the carvings the DuBose Aquatics Center shares little of the glamour of its predecessor. Even so, students are glad for a place to swim on campus and the ETU swim teams are thankful for being able to practice without getting mud between their toes.

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Not only does ETU require Freshman and Sophomore students to live on campus, but the majority of the dormitories are still single-sex. While the practice may be less “enlightened” than other campuses,   many young women and men say they feel more relaxed and “at home” without social pressures inherent with living in close proximity to the opposite sex.

Built in the mid 1990s and still in relatively good condition, the Danford Male Dormitory is one of the more sought-after dorms on campus. Danford is also the largest male dorm on campus, at five stories tall. Each floor has its own common area with a wide-screen tv, game console, couches, and even some compact workout equipment. The ground floor includes a mail room and an oversized common area with a pool table and vending machines. Building access is restricted to student ID cards keyed to their dorm.

Unlike older buildings at ETU, Danford offers few urban legends to titillate its residents. The most notorious is the prank residents call “feeding the beast”. It seems that students figured out how to use a giant, home-made slingshot to lob items at the dorm’s giant air conditioning condenser units positioned next to the building. These large machines, surrounded by a locked, steel privacy fence, use large spinning fans to exchange the heat from inside the building. However, students found entertainment in lobbing leftover food into the fans’ path for a spectacular spray of watermelon, spaghetti, or whatever else was sorted that night in the dining hall.

Obviously Feeding the Beast wasn’t popular with the campus maintenance crews, so it became a once-a semester prank the Danford men saved the night before the first final exam of the Spring semester. According to legend, the problem began shortly after the turn of the millennium. The story goes that the Danford men had fed “the Beast” several plates of scraps, when a genuine beast shuffled through the darkness to feed. Depending on who you talk to it was either a big dog like a Great Dane, a young black bear, or bigfoot. Whatever it was, the creature was drawn by the smell of food and charged right into the cheering crowd. Before they could sort out what happened, several young men received deep, bloody scratches and one had to be taken to the hospital with bite marks. The animal was never caught and probably faded right back into the Big Thicket after feeding.

Although a Danford men were still game to follow traditional the following year, there wasn’t much enthusiasm and it looked like the prank had finally run its course. However, the morning of Finals maintenance crews found numerous scratches and dents in the security fence protecting the air conditioning condenser units. Worse, the upper half of a Danford resident was found atop “the beast”. The bottom was never recovered, but campus officials and local law enforcement officials ruled the poor resident had been the victim of an alligator attack.

Ever since, the Danfords carefully follow tradition and Feed the Beast the night before finals. These days it’s a quick affair with not a lot of fanfare. Just a sacrifice to unknown forces for the sake of “good luck”.

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Formerly the English building until 1995 when that department moved into the new Lansdale Language Center, this worn   building now serves students in police sciences, pre-law, corrections, and social services. Although superficially renovated after the English department moved out, this somewhat dreary two-storey building still reflects its long use dating back to 1962.

Although the building offers a number of classrooms and faculty offices, the most notable feature of the Criminal Justice Center is a working courtroom used for misdemeanor cases. When the court first opened in 1995 it saw cases for felonies as well but the practice was halted in 1999 when suspected murderer Jeremy Bell managed to take hostage a student court secretary. After a five hour standoff in which Bell and hostage Nicole Allen were barricaded alone in the courtroom, deputies risked storming the room to find Bell dead and his hostage comatose. Although Nicole Allen eventually recovered and finished her degree, she claims amnesia of the event due to traumatic stress.

Although the building offers an elevator to the upper floor, most faculty and students prefer to take the flight of stairs located near the front entrance. Maybe it’s due to the relatively cramped size, the peeling paint, or the series of groans and rattles each time the elevator creaks from one floor to the next, but many people claim to get an unsettling feeling from the time the elevator doors close to the time they open again. Particularly imaginative English majors used to claim that the groans and rattles didn’t come from stressed metal but something wanting in as the car passed through spaces more metaphysical than what could be described between floors. The practical Criminal Justice majors that followed scoff at the idea as drug-fueled hallucinations from hippy English majors. Still, few use the elevator.

 

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Piney Woods Tour

-April 10th, 2013

No matter how many times we describe East Texas and the Big Thicket, the first thing many people think of when they hear “Texas” is rocky, wide open plains broken by the occasional tumbleweed. Fortunately for you I took a little East Texas excursion this past weekend, so this week’s “Campus Tour” is taking a deviation into the Big Thicket. While I didn’t have time to drive all the way to Pinebox, these photos were taken in the Big Thicket only about an hour away. Clicking on any of these photos will take you to a larger version.

 

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Not a tumbleweed to be seen. The Big Thicket is very green and full of life. It’s hard to say if this was a logging trail or if it served some other purpose, but it’s in remarkably good shape. When you imagine old trails cutting through the forest in Skinwalker, picture this.

 

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We’ve also written about how dense the Big Thicket is. Worse, when you’re trailblazing through the stuff it seems as if at least half is poison ivy. I actually took many other pictures of sections much more dense than this, but it turns out that a thick, tangled wall of vegetation makes for a boring photograph.

 

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I was especially fortunate to visit in the Spring after a good rain. Texas has suffered from a severe drought for the last two years, but rain swept through the state just a few days before my trip. We’re still far, far behind where we should be for rainfall so seeing running water in creeks was quite a novelty. Also, quite beautiful.

 

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Notice the high, steep banks. A flash flood dumping a several inches of rain overnight could turn creeks like these into death traps. It paints the term “gully washer” in a more serious light, huh?

 

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I saw several sets of animal tracks in the soft creek banks not far from this decaying bridge. The Big Thicket is home to poisonous snakes, bobcats, and wild boar just to name a few. Then there are the stranger, more deadly creatures rumored by locals to be in the deepest parts of the woods. They seem easy to dismiss as “just stories” until you hike into the Big Thicket yourself and the sounds of civilization fade away. Under the dark forest canopy, wrapped in stillness with nothing but the muted rustle of dead leaves and cautious birdsong, it seems not so unlikely. The forest is a big, forbidding place. Who can say what manner of creatures might be curled away under a leafy den, waiting for nightfall?

Waiting for their turn.

 

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This five-story brick building built in 1949 was named after a Russian scientist who defected to the US and made the college his home. Although Dr. Abrimov’s defection to Pinebox was celebrated at the time, within five years he had created a reputation for a level of belligerence that matched his astronomical intelligence. Even his colleagues joked that perhaps he hadn’t defected but rather foisted upon the US. The scientist’s laboratory was moved from the top floor to the second basement, where he continued his research until his death–officially ruled a lab accident–in 1961.

The somewhat grungy and ill-lit lecture halls in the Abrimov Sciences building still service undergraduate classes in Chemistry and Biology. Although the learning labs were renovated in the 1980s, the facilities barely meet modern safety requirements. By contrast the two basement levels were completely renovated in 2004 thanks to a Homeland Security grant. Today researchers look for ways to rapidly react to potential bio-terrorism vectors. Although ETU administrators insist that nothing harmful is kept in the basement levels, only faculty researchers and trusted graduate students are allowed on those floors.

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