Feature Stories Campus Events

Something Old, Something New After more than 10 years and $50 million, the restoration and renovation of Washington and Lee University’s hallowed Colonnade is complete.

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Students weren’t the only members of the Washington and Lee community who moved into new digs on campus for Fall Term. At the end of August, 30 faculty and staff unpacked boxes and settled into offices in a beautifully renovated Tucker Hall.

The completion of Tucker Hall marked the end of the extensive restoration and renovation of the entire Colonnade, a project that took more than 10 years and $50 million. The undertaking was the centerpiece of W&L’s most recent capital campaign.

“It’s a great feeling after many years in the Baker Hall swing space to come back to the Colonnade — and to come, for the first time, to Tucker Hall,” said Alex Brown, Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion. “How nice to come to spaces that seem, figuratively speaking, to have been expecting us.”

Prior to the renovation, the five buildings that make up the National Historic Landmark — Newcomb, Payne, Washington, Robinson and Tucker halls — were not up to modern standards for safety and fire protection, or for contemporary learning and teaching. They had not been updated since 1936, around the time Tucker Hall was rebuilt after the original structure burned down.

In addition, decades of structural changes, such as the 1980s insertion of a mezzanine in the two-story former law library at the rear of Tucker Hall, had covered up original features. “A lot of our work was just taking off all the things that had been melted onto the buildings over the years and restoring them to their simple elegance,” said Tom Kalasky, director of capital projects.

The restoration involved updating electrical and fire protection systems, replacing window air conditioning and radiator heat with modern mechanical systems, adding restrooms to the upper floors, improving handicapped accessibility, creating more office space, and upgrading technology — all in a way that was environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Glavé & Holmes of Richmond served as architects throughout the project, and Kjellstrom + Lee of Staunton as construction managers. O’Byrne Contracting Inc., owned by Elizabeth O’Byrne King ‘00, did custom millwork, and many other local craftspeople were also involved. All of the work aligned with the secretary of the interior’s “Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties,” and historic tax credits yielded more than $7 million that went back into the project. Every building submitted for certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program achieved a silver rating.

Kalasky said just about every building offered a neat surprise in the form of a hidden architectural feature or quirky find. The team worked with Alison Bell ’91, associate professor of anthropology, to assess potentially important discoveries along the way. Outside Robinson Hall, Bell and her team uncovered thousands of artifacts from the early 1800s, including a penknife, medicine vials and pieces of pottery. All are believed to have come from Graham Hall, a classroom and dormitory built in 1804 and demolished in 1835.

Ultimately, the Colonnade job took much longer than the original estimate of five years, in part because Facilities Management had to set up swing space for faculty and staff to use while buildings were under construction. In addition, W&L undertook other large capital projects, including the Ruscio Center for Global Learning, upper-division housing, Stemmons Plaza and the new natatorium, during the same time frame.

The result of all that hard work on the Colonnade is a perfect marriage of state-of-the-art, 21st-century functionality and freshly maintained 19th-century beauty.

“To be involved in a project like this, and to work with a project team of that caliber, was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, so it has been very fulfilling,” Kalasky said.