By REINA DATTA
On Friday, Feb. 1, Juliette Landphair, the Vice President of Student Affairs, sent out an email update about the various on-campus renovations that are currently underway. This update included the plans for Willard Hall, which closed in summer 2017 due to a steam tunnel rupture.
According to Landphair’s email, “Willard’s highlights include a lounge, classroom, study spaces, a media room, and a teaching kitchen. Willard’s renovations are currently scheduled for completion in fall 2019 and will offer double rooms by 2020 for first-year students.”
Posts written about Willard on the UMW blogs discuss how Willard Hall, completed in 1911, originally opened to its female student population and housed three people to a room, instead of the normal two. Small iron beds, and a mini-dining area characterized the old rooms. The building also served as a dining hall and a post office. When UMW’s enrollment increased, more bedrooms were added to Willard and the dining hall and post office were moved out.
As UMW’s oldest residence hall, all of its renovations are following strict historic preservation guidelines, and will be completed by the 2019-2020 school year.
One of the changes being made to Willard is the transition to it becoming a freshman dorm, which differs from it previously offering housing to upperclassmen.
“We are housing first-year students in Willard because a major part of Housing and Residence Life’s strategic plan is to house first years and sophomores closer to the center of campus where they have access to dining in the University Center,” said Landphair. “Willard will primarily be double rooms and have community hall bathrooms to encourage students to build relationships, which is particularly important for first years new to the University.”
“I can understand why they would be giving Willard Hall to first-year students,” said senior Allison Morris, a psychology major in the education program. “Why wouldn’t they want to start their college experience off on a good note with the most up-to-date housing? That’s the best first impression you could get.”
There are plans to continue updating other upperclassmen residence halls after Willard is complete, and the school will start to see a domino effect in regards to updates. Being in the center of campus, many feel that Willard Hall has a reputation to uphold as the oldest residence hall.
“I think it’s important that the residence halls maintain their historical appeal,” said junior Mackenzie Poust, a religious studies major. “I know part of the reason why I picked UMW was the way it made you feel like you stepped into a time machine and are taken back to the 1900s.”
Willard Hall not only has a special place on UMW’s campus, but also in the hearts of many alumni. According to Juliette Landphair, “we know from an alumni survey that alums have great affection for Willard.”
Lauren Frautschi, class of 2018, said she “still recalls from her freshman orientation that Willard Hall was the oldest residence hall,” and that “the fun fact stayed with her throughout college and now even in post-grad.”
The 16.5 million dollar project is meant to be a restoration of what it used to be when UMW was first developing. While it will uphold its historical features, according to UMW’s director of capital planning and construction Gary Hobson, there will be several updates including “double-paned, energy-efficient windows, an elevator, new plumbing, new mechanical and electrical systems and a new, interlocking metal roof.”
“We are very excited about the Willard Hall renovation,” Landphair said. “A few weeks ago, I was given a tour and was thrilled to see how it is coming along. As our oldest residence hall, it will continue to highlight some of its original features but will of course be updated with an elevator, air conditioning, and spaces designed for learning.”
The new floor plan includes a space for a “teaching kitchen.”
“In fact,” Landphair said, “having various purposes aligns with its original intent to house students as well as have dining and other functions within its space.”
“The communal kitchens have always had a bad reputation in my eyes,” Poust said. “I never want to cook in there because they seem out of date and cramped.”
Some pictures from UMW Library’s Digital Collections show Willard Hall in its former glory, complete with a tea room and a dining hall in the basement.