Bishop-Lehr Hall’s History: More Than Meets the Eye

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Bishop-Lehr Hall is now mostly used for storage and trainings, but it began its life as a laboratory school. Photos by Nick Trask

The mysterious large building on West campus: Bishop-Lehr Hall.

Those who have seen the building up close can attest to the unsightly state it is in. There aren’t any classes held there, nor is there a reason for most students to enter. Because of this, most students have never been inside Bishop-Lehr Hall. 

Some students have even come up with their own stories about the building. These rumors have spread all throughout campus. Even Kirk Leichliter, assistant vice president of facilities management, has heard them.

“There’s an urban legend that it is full of asbestos,” Leichliter said. “It’s not.”

The building isn’t in great shape and isn’t being maintained anymore. It looks unused, but it hasn’t been destroyed yet. It was reasonable for students to assume that there would be asbestos inside. Often, buildings with asbestos are kept standing because destroying it is unsafe due to the amount of asbestos that would be stirred from the demolition. 

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But the explanation for why it doesn’t have an asbestos build up has to do with the building’s history. Leichliter said the ultimate plan for the building was destruction, but they haven’t been able to budget that out yet. Also, finding a new place for all the storage that has accumulated inside would prove difficult. 

Bishop-Lehr hall was erected in 1961, and the year after was dedicated to being a K-12 laboratory school. That is the only entry about the building in the UNC Building and Grounds records in the Library Archives. But Leichliter said that when Hank Brown was UNC’s president, he was restructuring the budget, and Bishop-Lehr was the target of some of those changes.

“They converted to a charter school and then ultimately built their own facility out west of town,” Leichliter said. 

Brown was president from 1998-2002, so even if this happened at the end of his tenure, the building has been sitting there for almost 20 years. But because the building was a school, according to Leichliter, the asbestos problem was taken care of years ago.

“There were federal laws called AHERA that mandated really extensive management of asbestos in schools, and the preference was to abate it, so you didn’t have to manage it,” Leichliter said. “We had a lot of federal grants and money from Johns Manville and abated the vast majority of any asbestos in the building.” 

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act was signed in 1986, midway through the time of operation at the school. Because of this law, the old school was made safe years ago.

Even though it isn’t actively being maintained anymore, the building is actually being used, and not just for storage. UNCPD also uses the facility for training. During the pandemic, the building has been used as a COVID-19 testing site. Also, the basketball/tennis court on the side of the building is now used as the astronomy lab for UNC.

While it may not be the most attractive building on campus, it is a part of UNC history, and still serves a role to the school’s operation now. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. So, if I am understanding this article correctly, it is the “Area 51” of Greeley?
    Once again, an informative article, Nick! Cheers!

  2. My whole family attended the Laboratory School starting in the 60’s and ending in 86. Dad was a professor at UNC and all six of us kids attended there; 5 of us K-12 and 1 started there in middle school. My neighbor growing up was Elizabeth Lehr. She was an early childhood professor at UNC (Probably The Colorado State Normal School at that time) and she published a series of reading books that we actually used at the Lab school. The Tip and Mitten series.

    Interesting to see it is the source of urban legend. For alumni, it is heartbreaking to see it idle. Many memories. Thanks for the update.

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