Before the Student Union opened in fall 2010, the Barnhardt Student Activity Center was billed as the University’s “living room.”
By the late 1980s, UNC Charlotte’s growing student body needed greater recreational space, as well as a venue to enhance campus life and the collegiate experience. The Student Government Association petitioned University leaders to create an on-campus facility that would enable students to “eat, lounge, hold meetings, exercise, play games, engage in intramural athletics, attend concerts or dances, host a banquet, hear a major speaker or watch indoor sporting events.”
The resulting efforts by student and University leaders became the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center. The 200,000-square-foot facility was designed by Odell Associates Inc. Funding for the $26.3 million center was financed by bonds that are being retired through student fees. Private donor support also was solicited with major gifts from Robert and Mariam Cannon Hayes of Concord. Their donation led to the center being named for their late brother-in-law James H. Barnhardt.
A former chair, director and president of Barnhardt Manufacturing, James Barnhardt and his siblings expanded the family’s textile business started by their father Thomas in 1900. Born Dec. 5, 1913, Barnhardt attended Elizabeth Elementary School, Piedmont Junior High School and Central High School, where he graduated in 1931 as president of the student body. At N.C. State University, he studied textile management and was a member of the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon. During World War II, he was stationed in New York City, where he was responsible for purchasing hospital dressings and other supplies for the Army Medical Corps.
Following the war, Barnhardt returned to Charlotte and Barnhardt Manufacturing. He and his wife Eleanor Wilson Hayes Barnhardt had two sons, James Jr. and Sadler. An admirer of University founder Bonnie Cone, Barnhardt became a UNC Charlotte Patron of Excellence in 1967 and served on the University’s Board of Visitors and the board of directors of the UNC Charlotte Foundation. He also was a member of the N.C. State Alumni Association and the N.C. State Textile Foundation, as well as a trustee at Davidson College and Queens University of Charlotte.
Ground breaking for the Student Activity Center was in 1993. Construction was completed in 1997, with a special grand opening celebration held Feb. 12-15, culminating with the homecoming basketball game against Marquette University in the 9,100-seat Dale Halton Arena, named for another University benefactor and former trustee.
Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.