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The Blue & Gray Press | August 21, 2019

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Master Plan Met with Controversy

Master Plan Met with Controversy

The architecture firm of Burt, Hill was commissioned for $600,000 in October 2009 to envision changes to the University of Mary Washington’s campus that will provide new functional space as well as beautify the existing buildings.

Not everyone is happy about the proposed changes.

The historic preservation faculty, students, and alumni are concerned about the plans.

“We are not opposed to change,” said historic preservation assistant professor Michael Spencer. “We want to make sure the process is the best and most transparent it can be.”

However, many feel that the master plan has been less than transparent.

“Some of us found out last year, during fall semester,” said chair of the historic preservation department Douglas Sanford.

Historic Preservation Assistant Professor Andrea Smith said she was unaware of the changes until recently.

“Because I was on maternity leave, I did not know until a month ago,” Smith said. “I think that speaks to how our department was not involved in any aspect of the process.”

The faculty feels the entire process has been opaque. According to Smith, meetings about the master plan are scheduled when they are difficult to attend.

Smith also said that there is information at the meetings that has not been put on the Internet and it seems like all the decisions are being made behind closed doors.

“This process needs transparency,” Spencer said. “Once it’s gone, once we tear it down, it’s never coming back.”

“President Hurley believes in transparency,” said Rick Pearce, acting vice president for administration and finance. “People knew that when he began. Why would they think he would change?”

Pearce was chosen to get feedback from faculty, staff, and students on the master plan. He has held five open forums so far.

The most recent Master Plan forum was Nov. 4, which most of the historic preservation faculty attended.

“Our minds were not changed about the master plan,” said Sanford. “There are elements we like and appreciate, but we see real problems from the standpoint of historic preservation.”

According to Pearce, there is a large possibility that the school will make changes to the plan.

“It’s just a first draft,” Pearce said. “The last master plan was in 2003 and a lot of that did not happen.”

“We take their concerns seriously,” President Rick Hurley said. “We’re still in conversation about [the Master Plan].  If we move to a more definite plan, we will make sure to engage the Historic Preservation Department in that conversation.”

According to the Burt, Hill website for the UMW master plan site lighting along campus walk will be installed for security. New emergency facilities such as storm drains and back-up power will be installed in each region of campus and all walkways made wheelchair accessible.

A new student center is proposed on the site of Seacobeck Hall. This is particularly distressing to the preservation staff.

“What worries me the most is Seacobeck,” Smith said. “The building is underutilized as it is. If they say the school is not going to grow that much then why do they need to expand? The plans put forward for demolition and rebuilding at the meeting do not match the facts.”

According to Pearce, the proposed changes to Seacobeck are, “less to do with usage, more to do with what students want.”

The changes would create more programming space for campus organizations and modernize the dining program, which according to Pearce are much needed changes.

“Seacobeck also has structural issues as far as drainage and sewers,” Pearce said. “You can’t hear yourself think, it’s so loud.”

Junior historic preservation major Mandi Solomon is an OSACS student aide.

“It’s inefficient,” Solomon said.  “As someone who works in this building, I understand the historical content but there is no usable space.  Some buildings, like Framar, need to be saved, but this building has very little value comparatively.”

To accommodate growth for the newly formed Colleges of Business and Education, Woodard Hall, the existing student center, is proposed to be repurposed as an academic building. The existing Eagle’s Nest would be moved to the renovated campus center.

According to the school’s projections, the renovations and possible demolition of Seacobeck and Woodard would cost $45 million dollars. The administration has already submitted legislation to the governor for this money, Pearce said.

A performing arts complex has been proposed where Marshall Hall sits now. Melchers and Pollard would then be renovated and repurposed.

Of the existing 18 residence halls, 16 require renovation under the master plan.

“As we understand it, they will be gutting the buildings and keeping the outward façade,” Smith said. “You can’t say a building has been preserved by just keeping the façade.”

Two new residence halls will be constructed in the place of Jefferson, Framar and South Hall, forming a new quadrangle adjacent to an existing outdoor gathering space, Jefferson Square.

Students residing in Framar have been among the most vocal against the proposed changes.

At least one representative from Framar has been to each of the Master Plan forums, and they recently invited Pearce to attend one of their weekly Framar programs.  Senior Yuna Lee has spoken out against the changes.

“Despite its splintered floors, out of tune piano and ragged couches, Framar is home,” Lee said. “It is the place we can walk barefoot because we’re at home. Our doors are always open, we can hear when someone rings the doorbell and we can smell when someone is cooking something good. We are family and don’t have to worry about whether or not someone will steal our stuff if we leave it in the living room. Yes, we call it the living room, not the common room, not the lobby.”

A new living-learning community in the place of Bushnell Hall is also proposed by Burt, Hill. This community will consist of enhanced learning environments and lounges on the first floor and potentially honors student housing on the upper three floors.

A science lab and faculty office addition are proposed to the College Avenue side of Jepson Hall. According to research done by Burt, Hill, the science departments in Jepson have outgrown their facilities.

This is one area that the preservation department does not have a problem with.

“The modernization of some buildings would be great,” Smith said. “Jepson has definitely outgrown its facilities and needs work.”

Alvey and Arrington Halls also require a major renovation according to Burt, Hill. The existing building footprints create a higher renovation cost per bed that would likely exceed the cost of new construction. Therefore, it is recommended that Alvey and Arrington Halls be razed, and two new residence halls with greater bed capacity be constructed on the same site.

Spencer stressed that newer building often have subpar materials and have a shorter life than their older counterparts, citing Alvey and Arrington specifically.

According to Pearce, Alvey and Arrington were meant to only last 25 to 30 years and have significant heating and air conditioning problems.

“At this point, though, we are building 50 to 100 year buildings,” Pearce said.

“Dormitory plans in general are problematic,” Smith said. “Students are not pro-suite bathrooms. And we feel like they are going to be mega-dorms.”

However, Pearce stated that there will be no mega-dorms.

Student organizations have been formed in protest. Senior historic preservation and geography major Emily Morton is an active member of the master plan coalition.

“I am a believer in keeping what you can,” Morton said. “The greenest building is the one already built. I would like to maintain the small communities we have here on campus like Framar, South, Jefferson, Alvey and Arrington Halls. Instead of ‘façadism’ let’s work with the great fabric we have.”

There will be a partial renovation to the UMW apartments and a pedestrian bridge arched over William Street to campus.

Chandler Hall is also among the buildings with proposed renovations. Burt, Hill hopes to make it similar to Combs.

The Battleground Athletic Complex will be provided with a new locker room and restroom facility as well as new artificial turf and lighting on athletic field “D.”

A new parking deck to be built on university-owned property on College Avenue has been proposed to alleviate parking shortages. The deck will add approximately 400 cars to the university’s parking assets.

However, Smith believes that it is not being built in the most optimal location.

The three frame buildings close to College Avenue will be torn down and replaced with a parking lot, according to Smith, who finds this idea problematic.

“It should be replaced with something useful,” Smith said. “This has limited use and is bad for the environment.”

The Campus Police Station, which is currently located in Brent Hall, is not conducive for quick access to all campus points. Therefore, with a building on College Avenue, the police will be better equipped to serve the university, according to Burt, Hill’s website.

Additional academic space has also been proposed for the Stafford Campus.

During the upcoming spring semester, Smith will offer a preservation laboratory class. During the class, students will create a preservation plan for the campus.

“It’s just a theoretical exercise,” Smith said. “But it helps know what is here and what needs to be preserved and how students feel about campus; what the essence of the university actually is to students.”

According to Sanford, they are encouraging UMW to have a comprehensive preservation plan.

“Other schools are already doing it,” Sanford said. “Washington and Lee, VMI, William and Mary and UVA all have some degree of preservation planning. These are the schools we align ourselves with.”

Smith agreed.

“Mary Wash always mentions its history,” Smith said. “We will not be able to do that with a straight face if the plan goes through as it is.”
The three faculty members stressed that there is no reason the process should not be taken slowly.

“We are doing this because our buildings are falling apart,” Pearce said. “And we are determined to keep the school what it is and what makes it special.”

According to Hurley, the administration is taking the process as slowly as possible.

“We have deliberately slowed the approval process down because we have had some very good input and suggestions and are taking the time to think through all the information we have received,” Hurley said. “Originally, the plan was to seek approval at the November meeting of the BOV but instead, we are going to delay until February.”

The department’s ideas were not taken into account when the university began renovations last year on Monroe Hall.

As UMW’s oldest academic building, it is one that the preservation department was invested in.

But now, with vinyl windows the building would not be eligible for historic status with the nation’s Department of Historic Resources.

One point of concern were the murals in Monroe, which were preserved on the first floor, but not the second.

“We compromised,” Pearce said. “Were they listened to? I’d say so.”

“I think a very important point in this discussion is that we are in an age of reduced resources and that this is probably the “new normal,” so this puts even more pressure on all of us to make decisions that take into account cost trails,” Hurley said.  “Our challenge will continue to be the search for balance between that reality and our desire to preserve our buildings.”

“We have taken the material integrity out of that building,” Spencer said. “And those windows will not be here 90 years from now, like those wooden ones lasted.”

“This is a critical moment in the school’s history,” Sanford said.

–Ryan Marr contributed to this report.

Photo: Students gather in front of Seacobeck to protest the demolition of the dining hall. Anne Elder/Bullet


  1. Andrew

    Things like this are among the many reasons why I have no attachment to the institution at which I spent four years. It sounds like Burt, Hill wants to make the interiors of several campus buildings much like that of Combs. I spent much of my time in Combs, and while it was a nice, modern building that, on the exterior, fit with the campus character, boy was it shoddily constructed. I would be surprised if it lasted another 10 years without a major renovation. I lived in both Jefferson and Bushnell. While both may need some updating, I would hate to see any major renovations to either, never mind having both gutted and remodeled with cheap, shitty materials. The one connection I do have with my Alma mater is the beautiful campus filled with unique buildings. While I understand progress must be made, it should always be made in a way that is both prudent and respectful of the past. The renovation of Monroe was a travesty of preservation and I would hate to see the same mistakes repeated all over campus.

  2. Chris Young

    “Some buildings, like Framar, need to be saved, but this building has very little value comparatively.”

    The notion that Seacobeck has less value than Framar astounds me. Seacobeck Hall was designed to serve all of the UMW community. It has been the primary dining facility on campus since 1931 and receives visitation from the entire student body, despite some of Sedexo’s detracting meal selections.

    Framar, although a great building, serves as a dorm for a small body of students, and frankly most other students don’t know where it is located. Seacobeck derives its value from the broad number of students and faculty who have frequented its rooms for almost 80 years. It is the epicenter of campus interaction on a daily basis and its cultural significance outweighs most buildings on campus.

    Although Seaco lacks the stamp of the greenest building on campus, some elements in its design, such as large amounts of natural lighting, make it much more efficient building than one would assume. I have seen sustainable projects achieve LEED Platinum with much less forgiving building stock. I am not saying that Seaco could easily receive Platinum level certification, but it should be noted than effort to renovate Seaco into a “green building” comes with a host of tax credits and benefits making it an attractive opportunity. Demolishing this building, citing inefficiency, is unfounded.

    And if you want to talk about building inefficiency, let’s talk about the fact that the Simpson Library bleeds BTUs because its doors do not properly close all the way. You guys know what I am talking about- that magic breeze of warm air as you walk towards the library. I like it but mother earth cries.

  3. INAT6

    I love how there is an article directly below this one that talks about long lines and overcrowding at Seacobeck, yet everyone in this article seems to be saying there is no need for for additional dining space. Flip Flop much?

  4. Nathan

    In response to Chris, Framar was the original President’s house for the University of Mary Washington and has been around since the 1940s. It has served as a house for many different organizations over the last 30 or so years as well and had a rather rich history.

  5. Chris Young

    In response to Nathan. I don’t aim to discredit the value of Framar, which I will admit, my previous comment conveys. I support its preservation and despite my generalization, I appreciate its history and value. It definitely adds to the historic atmosphere of UMW. My intention was to stress that Seacobeck has a profound influence on campus and should not be devalued when compared to Framar.

  6. Michelle

    I graduated from MWC (now UMW) five years ago, and after walking around the “under construction” campus during homecoming, it appears that the campus is looking more and more like Christopher Newport University every year. Newer is not always better. Sometimes it just gives off an atmosphere bland monotony. Please, please try to maintain the old buildings, like Seaco, rather than demolishing them and building new ones on top. I liked attending a school with historic yet recognizable and distinct architecture. The old buildings gives our campus character.

  7. Kim Slayton White

    Framar ladies unite!!!! Many of us have lived in that lovely home. I did in 84-85. Let’s get a circle of alums to fight the destruction of this lovely part of campus.

  8. Anne K

    I too have little attachment to Mary Washington anymore. Until this master plan, however, I could at least go back to the campus and recall fond memories. After razing all of the buildings to which alumni have attachments, I wonder how much alumni funding the University will receive in future years. Not my money, anyway.

  9. The Truth

    Why are you historic pres majors so afraid of expansion. If he had it your way all buildings would be circa 1800’s. I say we bulldoze the whole thing down in front of the department. Historic pres = bunch of pinkos, who make everyone’s life harder. Someone farts on campus and they believe it threatens the historical integrity of campus. There is something called an architectural degree guys.

  10. Anonymous

    Since you saw the need to post on two articles and basically shut down a group of people solely because of their major selection, I deemed it necessary to follow suit and try to expunge your stupidity from those statements. You give zero reasoning as to why it should be bulldozed. You make no sense in calling out people because of what they think.

    I hate to break it to you, but it isn’t just Historic Preservation majors who think that the integrity of the school is in the classical design that almost all of the buildings adhere to. So please, if you’re going to comment on the Bullet, and you aren’t trolling, try to sound at least semi-intelligent. You are in college, you know.

  11. Kathleen Rowe

    I am distressed by the thought of Chandler’s being torn down. I spent four years of my life there when it housed both the English and Psychology Departments of MWC, and its patina of age and comfort was the “human factor” that we so sorely miss in modern, sterile buildings where we never feel quite at home. I fear what it might be replaced with and hope it won’t be anything like the travesty of the glass pyramid at the Louvre. There’s an abomination if there ever was one. New is not always better, and I support those who are striving to preserve the unique beauty and atmosphere of our campus.