Revising History

by Spencer Sipes ’11

Many of the new students, and even those who have not been on campus since the end of spring trimester, may have been observant enough to notice a vacant concrete slab near the entrance to campus off 59th Avenue. For those who do not know, that concrete slab behind the old Pub and security office is the last remnant of one of Thunderbird’s most prominent buildings, a 1940s aircraft hangar that connected the school to its World War II roots. Since Thunderbird’s inception, this structure, known as the Thunderbird Activity Center (TAC), served as a multipurpose building that allowed the school to cater to a plethora of functions.

In my short time here, the TAC hosted speeches from prominent political figures such as Condoleezza Rice, provided a meeting place for regional night festivities, catered to companies during career week, and even played host to dreaded midterm and final examinations. The TAC was truly a one-of-a-kind structure, from the world flags that adorned the walls to the lack of air conditioning that made it generally unusable in summer.

Perhaps one of my favorite memories of the recently demolished TAC has to be that of playing the entirety of the Spring 2010 ThunderOlympics there. Fond memories of giant inflatable playhouses (bad skin burns included), improvised dodge ball games, basketball, and tug-of-war competitions will be forever engrained in my mind as some of the best times I had at Thunderbird. In retrospect, I feel fortunate to have attended Thunderbird when at least one of its historical buildings was still in service.

Just as many of the students before me got to experience the old Tower before it became the renovated Pub, actually being in a historical building can build the foundation for which school pride can begin, and continue through the ages. Buildings that can be tied to the roots of Thunderbird’s founders’ visions of an internationalized business school can help elicit emotions of pride within the student body and faculty alike. There is just something very ethereal and magical about being inside of a structure that has prominence and direct ties to the very origins of the school. It is especially striking when thinking of the significance of the hangar in context to its vital importance in the most pivotal war in human history.

Despite the school’s best intentions to conserve its rich tradition through vintage WWII-era photos hung throughout the newer buildings, the appeal of a brick and mortar building simply cannot be recreated. While I won’t say the new AT&T Building and Lecture Halls are bad, they certainly lack the evocative nature that historic edifices prominently and effortlessly inspire. I just feel that prominent historical ties should not be so easily demolished.

hangerBeing a business major who specializes in finance, I can respect the school’s decision to tear down the structure instead of spending money to renovate. While simple NPV and cost-benefit financial calculations can be very persuasive when looking at the bottom line, I wonder if the TAC might have been saved solely for the purpose of Thunderbird keeping part of its rich international beginnings. Being a native Phoenician, I have been familiar with Thunderbird since I was a child, and the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the school is the historic WWII airfield and the accompanying hangars.

As time moves on, I’m sure Thunderbird will have to eventually make way for more classrooms and dorms, and more tough decisions to possibly eliminate other historical structures will ensue. It is difficult for me to begrudge Thunderbird when their actions are in the name of progress, but I wonder if the “Thunderbird mystique” will be able to endure when no remnants of its storied past exist.

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