Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 297, 325, 329).
Dr. Brinson, unlike his predecessor or the presidents who followed him, was able to make only modest contributions to the campus’s physical growth. The national economy and state funding did not permit construction of a major building until his last year. A new degree in vocational agriculture education did require erection of a five-thousand-square-foot prefabricated steel building in 1980 to house offices, classrooms, and a large shop area. SAU funded its cost of $125,000 from operating savings. Similarly, a prefabricated steel building was constructed at a cost of $49,557 for a biological field station at Lake Columbia. A number of facilities were named to honor other individuals, including the Dr. Imon E. Bruce University Center (student union) in 1988, the Richard O. Oliver Recital Hall in 1989 located in the Dolph Camp Fine Arts Building, and the Dr. Robert B. Walz Memorial Student Study in 1991 located in Cross Hall. There was much discussion during these years of restoring Jackson or Caraway halls, the only two original campus buildings still standing, but neither the state nor alumni offered enough funds to undertake such a project.
The central part of campus was almost graced in the early 1980s with an historic farmhouse, the Ozmer House, built in 1883. It was an example of the once-common dogtrot home found on area farms. It was the kind of home in which many TDAS students of the First World War era had once lived and was a living reminder of the school’s origins. Original plans called for it to be located near the Greek Theater and used as a community folk and craft building and museum. It needed much restoration when given to SAU by W. Derrell Rogers, a ’60 alumnus. Not enough money was raised to carry out original plans. The Ozmer House in the end was modestly restored and placed on the farm’s northeastern edge where unfortunately it had little use.
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Although SAU got almost no increased operating funds in 1989, it would eventually reap about $6 million in construction financing from actions of the 1989 session. Among Governor Clinton and the legislature’s most positive measures was Act 683, a referral to the voters who approved in the 1990 general election the first successful state bond issue for college capital construction in Arkansas history.
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In the end, a compromise was worked out in which Dr. Brinson resigned as president in December 1991; the board named him distinguished professor and honored Dr. and Mrs. Brinson’s past contributions and named a new art building, then under construction, Brinson Art Building.
A state-supported college savings bond program, approved by voters in the 1990 general election, had provided SAU with the first major capital funding of Dr. Brinson’s presidency to build the art building and later a business building. It was hoped that the initial $2 million received would pay for a new art building and for remodeling of the oldest buildings on campus, Jackson and Caraway halls. Alumni hoped these remnants of the original campus could be preserved. Ballooning construction estimates, however, for the art building, whose costs eventually reached $1,844,128, meant that the older buildings would have to wait longer for preservation.
The Brinson Art Building was a modern two-story brick and steel structure with a broad expanse of glass, facing east toward the mall, allowing a view of the work of artists inside. Its exterior featured half columns built into the wall in a modest salute to the Georgian columns that graced some of the older campus structures. In addition to numerous studios, offices, and classrooms, the large building (24,200 square feet) featured in the first floor’s center area a gallery to display art and to host receptions. Although the art chair, Willard Carpenter, and his colleague Fred Henry were artists of the old school, in helping design the structure they made certain the building provided the latest facilities for the new computer-based graphic design instructors who would follow them. The Brinson Art Building’s opening on February 2, 1992, featured in the new gallery an exhibit of the works of artist Shirley Jeffcoat Combs, an ’82 alumnus, whose family funded scholarships for the art program. The building’s formal dedication occurred on March 28, 1993, after Dr. Brinson had returned from a sabbatical leave to take up a new teaching post.