Buildings are like people: hollow shells that must be filled with memories, resonate with the sound of laughter, age with time, exist with a touch of sorrow, glow when filled with love and be created with a ray of hope.
Amarillo College was founded in 1929. The school started with about 80 students, five faculty members, a few administrators and a librarian, according to Joe Taylor’s book, The AC Story: Journal of a College.
A contract was signed to let the arts and commerce building to Walter Wirtz Construction in 1948. An addition was added to the building in 1955, and it was named the engineering building.
In summer 1958, the AC board approved a proposal to rename three buildings: the administration building, the arts and commerce building and the vocational building.
The arts and commerce building was to be renamed John Durrett Hall to honor J.R. Durrett, who died in June 1957.
On July 7, 1958, the proposal was altered without objection after J.R.’s son, Delmar Durrett, requested that it be named J.R. Durrett Hall since his father was never called John. The new name became effective immediately, and J.R.’s widow was a guest of honor at the annual President’s Reception that October.
J.R. Durrett had established the Eldon Durrett Memorial Scholarship Fund at AC in 1951. The scholarship was established to honor the memory of his son, who had died in an automobile accident in 1950. It helps males from Amarillo fund their AC college experience.
J.R. Durrett had taught and been a principal of the school at McLean. While at McLean, he was introduced to and later married Verna Teel.
Durrett later taught at Clarendon, where he also began to invest in real estate, according to the Armstrong County Historical Society.
Durrett had large land holdings in Amarillo and other areas, including Armstrong County. He moved to Amarillo in 1923, where he invested in property in town and surrounding farmland throughout the Panhandle.
Agriculture and mortgage loans were Durrett’s primary business investments at the time of his death. He owned and operated the J.R. Durrett Investment Company in a partnership with his son, Delmar, and his son-in-law, McDonald Hays.
Durrett Hall has served multiple purposes over the years. Advisers, professors and other staff members have offices on the second floor. Classes for humanities, government and other studies were conducted on both floors. Faculty and staff had meetings there, the campus police headquarters are located in the northwest corner and the Natural History Museum was located in the building before its relocation to Ordway Hall in 2001.
The recently completed, 5,920-square-foot renovation of Durrett Hall’s first floor has provided AC students with improved Math Outreach and Math Testing centers.
The outreach center is technologically advanced with audiovisual equipment, computers, network switches, telephones and other components.
Funding for the renovations came from a Hispanic-Serving Institutions Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Grant.
According to Tara Meraz, a math instructor and supervisor of the outreach center, moving the center from the engineering building to Durrett Hall provides more space with better access for students, is an improved use of space compared to the former classrooms and draws many more students than the old center did.
Meraz, an AC graduate, received her master’s degree in mathematics from West Texas A&M University and returned to AC to teach math. She started out as a student peer math tutor in the Math Outreach Center when it was in the engineering building.Now she gets to mentor other peer tutors who want to follow in her footsteps.
“The new center is much better,” she said. “It’s less crowded, and the technology has improved the whole experience a lot.”
AC now has six campuses and outreach centers in three counties, offers 143 degree and certificate programs, had an academic enrollment of 11,426 and an additional 25,000 enrolled in Continuing Education programs in 2012 and still is growing.