On Campus: A Village Rises As construction wraps up on W&L's new upper-division housing, the university names new streets after two beloved employees: Lewis John and Larry Stuart.
It has been 267 years since a small classical school called Augusta Academy was founded near present-day Lexington, and 240 years since its successor, Liberty Hall, educated students in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. In August 2016, the spirit of those institutions that became Washington and Lee will be resurrected in a new residential area on the university campus, completing a project that has drawn heavily from W&L’s recent history and remarkable sense of community.
The Village, which consists of two adjacent residential groupings called Augusta Square and Liberty Hall Common, is the largest construction project at W&L in decades, with a price tag of approximately $42 million. It is the result of a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees in 2014 that required all students to live on campus through the junior year.
“The guiding principle in developing this project has been our desire to preserve the distinctive character of the Washington and Lee community,” said Washington and Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “The new residential neighborhoods add in significant ways to the university’s strong sense of place.”
As plans for the Village took shape, the project became about much more than a place to study and sleep. A restaurant, coffeehouse/pub, fitness center and green spaces in the new residential area were designed to encourage socializing and physical activity. University planners also seized the opportunity to improve safety campus-wide by establishing a detailed 911 addressing system that will improve emergency response times to W&L.
In addition, leaders decided to christen new streets on campus with the names of two men who left a lasting impression on the university: the late Larry Stuart, a public safety officer, and Lewis “Lew” John, a retired dean of students and professor of politics emeritus.
“At the end of the day, we want to have an infrastructure that supports the development of community because that’s what’s important here,” said Sidney Evans, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “And those two people, for two different generations of students, contributed so much to that.”
The two “neighborhoods” that make up the Village will house about 340 students in the 2016-2017 academic year. They encompass a total of nine apartment houses and eight townhouse buildings clustered around park-like greens. Construction of a new natatorium has taken place concurrently with the housing project.
Augusta Square, which is located on the lower end of the development, just above the natatorium, consists of four apartment buildings and three townhouse buildings. Liberty Hall Common, located above the Artificial Turf Field, holds five apartment buildings and five townhouse buildings.
Each unit in the three-story apartments offers four single bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a balcony. Most of the three-story townhouses are made up of six-bedroom units with two full baths and three half-baths. Two units each have seven bedrooms, three full baths and three half-baths. All townhouses have a kitchen, living room and balcony.
Every apartment and townhouse boasts handsome, modern decorative touches such as granite countertops and chocolate-colored wood laminate floors. Perhaps most exciting are the views from the upper-floor units.
“We knew the views up there were going to be great,” said Evans, “but especially from some of the higher units, they’re just phenomenal in both directions — towards House Mountain and then back towards VMI. It’s just beautiful.”
The two apartment buildings that overlook Wilson Field are a bit different from the others. One will house a restaurant and community room on the bottom floor, while the other will have a fitness center, a multi-purpose room and study rooms. The upper floors are student housing.
These two structures will be connected by a small, curved colonnade; the area between the buildings will be filled with tables for outdoor dining, socializing and studying. Planners hope the common spaces inside and outside these buildings will lure those who want a prime view of athletic events on Wilson Field.
To build the Village, the college used modular construction, a technology that neither the architect, the university nor the contractor had ever employed. John Hoogakker, executive director of university facilities, said modules were fabricated in a factory in Rocky Mount, Virginia, then brought to Lexington and assembled on site. Each townhouse structure comprises 19 modules.
Unlike the conventional method, modular construction prevents work from being impacted by foul weather or low light. Hoogakker said it was the highest quality, least expensive, and fastest method they could have used for the project.
“I was a little skeptical going in,” he said, “but I am a real convert for this method of construction.”
That doesn’t mean the whole undertaking has been a breeze. As in other construction projects on campus, while working on the natatorium, workers ran into a lot of hard local limestone that had to be excavated. They expected to encounter the “astoundingly challenging” rock, Hoogakker said, but they did not expect to have to plug holes.
One day, while doing some explorative drilling, the drill came back up with a 16-foot section of drill bit missing. It had fallen off in an underground cavern. “That took both time and money to address,” Hoogakker said. “It required hundreds of cubic yards of extra concrete.”
For the natatorium, more than 90 exterior wall panels were manufactured in Petersburg, Virginia, then transported to Lexington to be assembled. On a recent afternoon, dozens of construction workers crawled over the natatorium like an army of busy ants.
“It’s really great to see so many people out here making a decent living,” Hoogakker remarked. “This is a huge boost in the local economy.”
Avenues to remembrance
Construction of the Village, along with a push to assign new addresses campus-wide, created a need to develop new street names on both sides of campus. And that provided an opportunity for university leaders to honor two individuals whose contributions to the school are unparalleled.
Lewis John Avenue, which will connect West Denny Circle to the Village, was named for a 1958 W&L graduate who spent nearly his entire career at his alma mater. John started in Admissions and Financial Aid in 1963, left to obtain a master’s degree, and returned in 1968 to become dean of students, a position he held for 21 years. After earning a Ph.D. from Syracuse, John became a full-time politics professor in 1991.
He received the Pusey Award for University Service in 1986, and served as coordinator of the Public Policy Program, on the faculty for the Summer Scholars Program, as a pre-law advisor, and as a member of the Shepherd Program Advisory Committee. He was also chair of the University Athletic Committee, the ODK faculty secretary, and the faculty advisor to the Owings Fellowship Program.
As an alum, John volunteered for his 50th and 55th class committees, and generously supported Washington and Lee’s Annual Fund, the Friends of Leyburn Library, the Class of 1958 Farris and Judy Hotchkiss Alumni House Endowment, and the Class of ’58 Uncas and Anne McThenia Term Professorship. For these contributions and more, John received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013.
“When I mention his name to alums who are probably more than 15 years out, the face says it all,” Evans said. “It’s clear he made an impact on students, an impact on their development.”
John said that when he received a call from President Ruscio about the street name, he was pleasantly surprised and honored. W&L has been “the major part of my life,” he said.
“I’m very pleased to have my name associated with an area of student housing, since I spent most of my career with students,” he added.
The street that cuts straight through the heart of Liberty Hall Common will be named Larry Stuart Avenue, after the caring, gregarious public safety officer whose death, in 2014 at age 54, came as a shock to the entire W&L campus. Stuart, who worked at the university for 29 years, was especially renowned for his rapport with students.
Ethan Kipnes, director of public safety, said Stuart understood that law enforcement in higher education is not always black-and-white.
“I think one of the things that’s great on a college campus is that even in a public safety area, we can live a lot more in that gray area and still hold students to certain expectations. We can still have rules and regulations, but at the same time take advantage of the opportunity that we are part of the educational process of the institution. Larry had a good feel for exactly that — what are the times when we have to say ‘OK, we have a job to do and here’s the line and you’ve crossed it,’ or is this student going to be better served by taking a little bit of a different approach?”
Stuart’s sister, Peggy McNeil, said both she and her mother cried when they found out the university wanted to use her brother’s name.
“Larry worked so hard to keep the students safe and to keep them close where he could be at arm’s reach to them,” McNeil said. “To have them closer on campus, that’s something that he would have wanted. He is smiling down now to see that this is finally happening.”
Larry Stuart likely would have also wanted local police officers and firefighters to be able to respond to emergencies on the Washington and Lee campus as quickly as possible, a goal that will be easier to meet with a more sophisticated addressing system.
Taking steps for safety
For at least a year, Assistant University Planner Truman Payne has been working to assign exact physical addresses to every location on campus. “This is going to be a really super thing, safety-wise,” he said.
Kipnes said more professional firefighters are being hired from outside the Lexington/Rockbridge County area, so one can no longer assume that all responders are familiar with the W&L campus. Even those who know it well use a variety of terminology for certain buildings and outdoor areas.
The sophisticated navigation technology that is being used increasingly by emergency responders was often defaulting to the W&L mailing address, 204 W. Washington St., when a call came in from campus. “It could have been a fire alarm in Lewis Hall — the Law School — and the fire trucks are rolling up to West Washington Street,” Kipnes said, “which is a half-mile away from where they needed to be.
“Anything that delays emergency response is not good, and certainly if we have the ability to do some work to remedy any of those issues or take out any of those possible delays, then that certainly is important for us to work on.”
Payne coordinated with local agencies to use the standard formula for assigning road names and numbers. Not all of the new road names are in locations that would typically be considered roads, but they do serve as access points for vehicles like fire engines and ambulances. In addition to Larry Stuart Avenue and Lewis John Avenue, other new names include Generals Lane, which cuts behind the Center for Global Learning between W&L and the VMI campus; Stemmons Plaza, the space behind the Colonnade; Early-Fielding Way, which runs behind Early-Fielding University Center and Evans Dining Hall from Lee Avenue to West Washington Street; Warner Drive (between Doremus Gym and the parking garage); and Augusta Square (off West Denny Circle, around Watt Field and the Artificial Turf Field).
Payne and Kipnes said the next step will be educating local responders and W&L students and employees about the new addresses. For reasons of safety and privacy, the mailing address for all locations on campus will remain 204 W. Washington St. Payne said the new addresses make for better communication between the university and local public safety officials, although he hopes the detailed addresses are never needed for a serious emergency.
“We hope that any calls will just be burned popcorn and stuff like that,” he said.
Other safety updates of note at the Village include electronic/swipe-card access on buildings, lots of additional lighting, and new freestanding pedestals that will feature a blue light, security camera and phone line to the Public Safety Office. “We wanted to be able to install these in some of those areas over there that will feel more remote, like the parking lot areas and some of the walkways,” Kipnes said.
Speaking of parking, he said, students living in the Village will be issued a permit that allows them to park in lots on the back side of campus, and does not allow parking on the main part of campus during academic hours. Kipnes said it is impossible to say for sure until everything is open, but he anticipates that the parking garage will be less utilized than it is now.
“The crunch that we’ve felt for the past year or year and a half will hopefully be alleviated by the fact that we’ll be able to distribute vehicles in a different way, and have added just enough new parking to manage to spread everybody out,” he said.
Life at the Village
The Village truly was designed with students in mind, Evans said, which is why they asked student focus groups for input. Those groups helped to inform decisions such as building six-person townhouses instead of smaller units, because W&L students seem to like living in larger groups. The focus groups also expressed a desire to make the Village inviting to all students, which is one reason planners included attractions like a restaurant and spaces for outdoor gatherings.
Evans said the housing lottery went exceptionally well, with any junior who wanted to live in the Village getting a spot there. “This class is pretty decent-sized, and we were hoping the numbers worked, but you never know until you try, and they did.”
The new dining facility at the Village, which is being called Fieldside, will be split into two halves; the larger half will be a restaurant, while the smaller half, Fireside, will be a coffeehouse and pub.
Michael Zanie, director of dining services at W&L, said the restaurant will have a rotating dinner concept to make the most of its smaller food-storage space and to keep the menu interesting. About every two months, the theme will change. No matter the dinner concept, he said, the ordering method will always be similar to a Chipotle, with customers able to build their own plates by pointing out whatever fresh hot and cold ingredients they desire.
The working plan for the rotating theme: Mexican cantina in September and October (“Mexican typically is identified as the most popular thing that we don’t have an identified spot for yet,” Zanie said); a firehouse grill in November and December; Asian stir-fry in January and February; a pasta bar in March and April, and lighter, more summery fare such as wraps and bowls in May.
Zanie said Dining Services will monitor the popularity of the themes and make changes, if necessary. “If something underperforms, we’ll introduce something else.”
The larger restaurant side will initially be closed for breakfast and lunch, but Fireside will be open during those mealtimes, serving quick items such as breakfast sandwiches, pastries, paninis and salads. The coffee shop will serve Lexington Coffee Roasters coffee, and at night the pub will serve beer, wine and hard cider with a locally sourced focus. There will even be a late-night pub grub menu featuring items such as quesadillas, pizzas and loaded nachos. The hours of the two venues may be adjusted to meet student demand.
Overall, university leaders see the Village as a residential hub that complements what the campus already has to offer. They picture students watching lacrosse or football games at Wilson Field from the comfort of their balconies, playing corn hole or Frisbee on the lawn in the center of Liberty Hall Common, sipping coffee while studying at a table outside Fieldside, and getting a little exercise while walking to class instead of driving.
“I’m anxious to see these apartments and townhouses come online,” Payne said. “We’ve got a lot of land back here, and I think it’s going to be awesome to see some new life on campus.”
– Lindsey Nair | firstname.lastname@example.org