The Columns

Feels Like Home: The Village First Impressions, Brand new upper-division housing and remodeled apartments at Woods Creek give juniors plenty of reasons to welcome the new school year at W&L.

— by on September 15th, 2016

“I feel like I have space, and it is kind of removed but in the best way.” – Diana Banks ’17

Washington and Lee University students watched for a year and a half as a third-year residential community, The Village, steadily took shape on the back half of campus. On Labor Day weekend, as the bulk of the junior class began to settle into the new apartments for the 2016-2017 academic year, The Village came to vibrant life.

Students say the modern, spacious, fully equipped units — all in a neighborhood setting — make them feel as if they are living in off-campus housing. But they need only look out a window or step outside to spot the athletic fields, the footbridge and Old George, a reminder that they are right across Woods Creek from the rest of campus.

Many students said it is truly the best of both worlds.

“I feel like I have space, and it is kind of removed but in the best way,” said Diana Banks ’17, a community advisor (the upper-division version of an RA) in The Village. “That is what I was looking for this year.”

The new upper-division housing, which is made up of two residential groupings called Augusta Square and Liberty Hall Common, is the result of a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees in 2014 that required all students to live on campus through the junior year. The $42 million project broke ground in March 2015 and created a lively residential environment on a slice of campus between the Law School and Liberty Hall Ruins.

The Village is comprised of nine apartment buildings and eight townhouse buildings. Each apartment has four single bedrooms and two bathrooms, while most of the three-story townhouses are made up of six-bedroom units with two full baths and three half-baths. Two of the townhouses each have seven bedrooms, three full baths and three half-baths.

When students moved in, they could not contain their excitement as they wandered through the apartments and discovered not only spacious bedrooms and ample bathrooms, but also state-of-the-art kitchens, furnished living rooms, porches and laundry nooks with full-size washers and dryers that do not require piles of quarters.

“Look, I can control the temperature in my own house!” exclaimed Rachael Miller ’18, as she examined a thermostat in the hallway outside her bedroom. “That is so exciting because it’s nothing I’ve ever been able to do before. I feel like a real grown-up now.”

Parents who helped their students move in were just as pleased with the accommodations. “This is usually what you get after you graduate — or maybe 10 years later,” said Karen Hall, who dropped off her son, Daniel Hall ’18.

Some parents were even a bit jealous. Hayden Combs ’18 reported that his mom coveted his new kitchen, with its modern appliances, granite countertops and dark wood flooring. “She was like, ‘This is nicer than my kitchen!'”

Because university planners wanted The Village to be more than just an on-campus apartment complex, they conducted focus groups with students to determine how to build a housing area that incorporates the comfort and privacy of home with opportunities for socializing and community involvement. As a result, the neighborhood also includes a restaurant, coffeehouse/pub, a fitness center, a dance/exercise studio and common areas for studying and meetings.

The outdoor spaces at The Village are just as inviting and functional as the indoor areas.

The large lawn in the center of Liberty Hall Common is meant to encourage outdoor play and to serve as a location for student events, such as the Sept. 8 low-country boil that will celebrate the official opening of The Village. Augusta Square is the site of the two side-by-side buildings that house the eateries and other common areas. Between those buildings is a courtyard with tables, propane fire pits and rocking chairs.

These common buildings and the courtyard were intentionally positioned with an unparalleled view of Wilson Field, where football and men’s lacrosse games take place. The Village is also adjacent to the field hockey and soccer fields. Whether they are sipping local beer and wine from the new pub, having dinner in the courtyard or hanging out on one of the private balconies, students will have a skybox-quality view of sporting events.

“We’re hoping that this will really assist with boosting sports attendance and fan participation,” said David Leonard, dean of Student Life.

Augusta Square will also overlook a new outdoor pavilion that is currently under construction on the Law School lawn. The pavilion, which will host live music and other events, is scheduled to be completed by Homecoming, which is the weekend of Oct. 21.

Finally, The Village also neighbors W&L’s new natatorium, which is still under construction but is scheduled to open in February. The natatorium will contain a 40-meter pool, as well as locker rooms, a wet classroom and spectator seating.

In October, landscaping at The Village will be completed with the planting of some 170 trees and 400 shrubs. Randolph Hare, director of maintenance and operations for the university, said these plants cannot be placed until October because nurseries will not guarantee the stock if they are planted too early in the season. The selection of trees will include showy species, such as redbuds and dogwoods, which will contribute greatly to the seasonal beauty of campus.

“We generally try to use native plant material and also try to give consideration to what gives us the broadest range of color for the maximum amount of time,” Hare said.

Everyone involved in planning The Village was pleased by the pristine new construction, but the sense of satisfaction was enhanced when students arrived and started adding personal touches such as patio furniture, wind chimes and colorful corn hole platforms. “You can already feel the sense of community, with people putting their rocking chairs out on their porches,” said Tammi Simpson, associate dean of students and dean of juniors.

Dean of Students Sidney Evans said it has been a joy to hear from students living at The Village, and that their reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

“The move in went flawlessly,” she said, “and I think the most fun thing for me has been to encounter students as they have moved in, to see their reaction and to have them tell us that we got this right. They are very, very excited about the opportunities that this is going to give them to interact with their classmates.”

The Village isn’t the only spiffy new housing on campus this year. Woods Creek Central, one of three buildings that make up the Woods Creek Apartments, has been completely remodeled to include new kitchens, flooring, bathroom fixtures, ceiling fans and fresh paint. Evans said the university will gather feedback and consider remodeling the other two buildings in the future.

Ralston Hartness ’17, a community advisor living at Woods Creek Central, lived in Gaines last year. He said that having a large, updated apartment with his own bedroom makes it nearly impossible to compare the two experiences.

“There is just a sense of freedom here,” he said, “and there is more opportunity to relax.”

– Lindsey Nair | lnair@wlu.edu