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Payne Hall Restoration: A Marriage of Old and New

At first glance, Room 201 in Payne Hall looks much like it did 100 years ago: slate blackboards, plaster walls, large windows. It’s only after you step inside that you notice the recent upgrades, which include central air, overhead projectors, a high-definition ceiling-mounted document camera and a recessed screen. It’s also fully wired for Internet access.

“That’s the room where Lee was inaugurated, and there’s a little plaque commemorating that,” said Suzanne Keen, professor of English and chair of the English Department, which is housed in the building. “That room is effectively the same , except that it’s temperature controlled and there are modern smart tools for teaching.”

Payne, built in 1830, is the second building completed in the multi-phase rehabilitation and restoration of the Colonnade, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972. The building closed for construction in May 2010 and re-opened the week of July 25. During the 14-month project, the English faculty worked in Baker Hall, a residence hall that has been serving as temporary swing space for faculty and staff displaced from the Colonnade during the work.

To qualify for state historic tax credits with the project, the University had to adhere to preservation and rehabilitation guidelines set by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “The exterior should look fresh and renewed,” said Tom Kalasky, director of design and construction at W&L. “The interiors, we call that a historic rehabilitation, where we’re very sensitive to maintaining as much of the historic fabric as possible.”

This means that the improvements should not destroy the building’s historic character. “The challenges are always, ‘How do you get modern systems into a building while still maintaining the historic fabric?’ ” said Kalasky, who compared the rehabilitative work to surgery. Most skillfully inserted were the building’s data centers. W&L is currently building a so-called fiber freeway across campus, and the wire- and connector-filled data centers – tucked into closets on the first and second floors – serve as exits from that freeway.

The Payne Hall project also adhered to W&L’s strategic plan. “One of the points in our strategic plan is to provide an education for the 21st century,” said Kalasky. “We want to build out space that meets the programmatic needs of the University.”

Because the building’s warren of hallways and small offices did not encourage interaction between students and teachers, Kalasky’s team of architects and engineers decide to “right-size” Payne’s offices and classrooms. To improve the flow of people throughout the building, the team completely removed the back staircase. The first-floor corridor now extends unimpeded across the building. On the second floor, the stairwell has been converted into a sitting area.

Payne’s book-filled seminar room, located down the hall from the sitting area, is the first classroom on campus with a ceiling-mounted document camera. “It’s a live video of what you’re projecting, so I can put down a student paper and mark it up,” said Keen. “It’s super convenient if you want everybody to be looking together at something.”

Faculty offices have also been improved, and many have been enlarged. “My office was a third of the size, so it was tiny. I couldn’t get enough people in to have conversations,” said Lesley Wheeler, an English professor who’s been teaching in Payne since 1994. “The ceiling used to leak, so if I left papers in a specific spot I’d lose them. And I couldn’t see out the window because there was an air-conditioning unit in it.”

Offices now have new furniture, storm windows and, in most cases, nearly 200 linear feet of bookcases, complete with rolling ladders to reach the highest shelves. Eco-friendly smart lighting brightens the rooms.

The building’s eco-minded upgrades have not gone unnoticed. “It’s a huge improvement. The old building was an energy waster of massive proportions,” said Jim Warren, the S. Blount Mason Jr. Professor of English, who has taught in Payne Hall since 1984. “In the middle of winter all the windows would be open because it would be insufferably hot, and so now, with the central air and heating, it should become a much more efficient building.”

Payne is in the process of earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a designation granted by the U.S. Green Building Council. As a historic preservation site, Payne does not have to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To accommodate disabled visitors, however, the construction team added an accessible entrance behind the building. It also built an accessible meeting room with a television monitor on the first floor.

Most of the English Department faculty, which comprises 12 full-time professors and five adjuncts, has returned to Payne. A few professors will have offices in the adjacent Washington Hall, now being renovated and scheduled for completion in December 2012.

“We have all this technology, but it’s all in service of discussions about literature and writing. Those are still our priorities,” said Keen. “We’re hoping that students will find the place and think of it as a center for the literary arts.”

— by Amy C. Balfour, ’89, ’93L

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
(540) 458-8459