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Gerrard May Be Used As Religious Facility

UNC alumna Bronwyn Leech has asked planners to keep in mind Gerrard Hall's early function as campus chapel.

Bronwyn Leech, a 1998 graduate of the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, submitted the proposal to Chancellor James Moeser in May.

"It's something that I felt a need for when I was a student there," Leech said. "The facility would be used by different denominations and by different groups so it's a less intimidating environment to explore different ways of doing things." The University could choose to incorporate Leech's proposal into the current restoration plans for Gerrard.

Provost Robert Shelton, chair of the University's facilities planning committee, said that while Moeser will make the ultimate decision, options for using the building will be reviewed by the Department of Facilities Planning and various other committees before any recommendations are made.

"If it's a well-thought-out use, it needs to be used in competition with other viable options," Shelton said.

Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities services, also said that any suggestions for the use of Gerrard Hall will be considered.

He said UNC is hiring a historical preservationist for the campus. He estimated that the search for a designer will begin in 60 days. The committee will not begin considering options for Gerrard until they find a designer.

Leech said she hopes the restoration of Gerrard can honor the original intentions of the University's founders.

The building was finished in 1837 as the second campus chapel. It originally served as the primary religious center on campus and as a general meeting space.

Brandy Dykhuizen, a sophomore from Surf City, said that the original purpose of the building should be honored, but she would not use such a space herself. "It's probably going to end up being predominantly Christian, and everyone else will feel uncomfortable to go there," she said.

NC Hillel Executive Director Or Mars said he thinks the idea is good, in theory. "I think it could pose some challenges to pluralism as well as church-state issues, but if we could overcome that, it would be a positive step forward."

Jan Rivero, campus minister of the Wesley Foundation, said she thought it would be a valuable resource.

Both NC Hillel and the Wesley Foundation already have their own spaces for students to worship.

Scott Vermillion, area director for UNC's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus Christian group that does not have a designated meeting space, said that his group would use such a space.

Some students, including Muslim junior Yusuf Ahmad, said they would not oppose the proposal but would probably not use such a facility themselves. "If this is going to work, the primary focus has to be on sharing knowledge of the different religions, (rather) than practicing religion."

Emily Drum can be reached at edrum@email.unc.edu.

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