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The Worrell Building, a significant part of the UAB School of Optometry’s history, was demolished in February 2019 to make way for the modernization of the university campus. The building housed the Department of Vision Sciences, the Vision Science Graduate Program, and the Vision Science Research Center (VSRC) for the school from 1988 to 2013.

Worrell BuildingAcquiring the building was an action motivated by necessity.

In the mid-1980s, the UAB School of Optometry had a problem. The school’s research programs had grown too large for the research space available in the Henry Peters Building, and the existing research labs in the building were cramped and inadequately equipped (no fume hoods, gas or vacuum lines, etc.).

The solution, devised by then Dean Henry Peters and Dr. Terry Hickey (then VSRC Director) was to buy more space. The “Doctor’s Center”, built in the 1960s, was available. Hickey and Peters worked with UAB central administration to purchase the building in 1985, pledging funds left in trust by Birmingham optometrist Dr. Paul Worrell. The building was renamed in October 1988 to recognize Dr. Worrell’s contribution.

Hickey then wrote two successful NIH construction grants so the building could be stripped to the frame and re-built as a research building. In 1988, the Worrell Building opened for business, providing the additional, state-of-the-art research space needed to continue developing NIH-funded vision research for the UABSO.

worrell demolishedAs described by Dr. Thomas Norton, professor emeritus, it was a quirky building. Designed by Fritz Woehle, the structure had pillars in inconvenient locations (like in the middle of faculty offices) and inadequate air conditioning.

“Over the years, the roof leaked periodically, false fire alarms disrupted activities and, when taking the elevator one ran the risk of randomly being stuck for minutes or hours,” Norton said. “Nonetheless, for 25 years, it allowed UABSO faculty to conduct important research on retina, cataract, eye movements, myopia, and visual cortex, raising the stature of UABSO both on campus and around the world. Although Worrell “alumni” miss it, we all can be proud of what we accomplished there.”