By KATIA SAVELYEVA
At the beginning of the spring 2020 semester, freshmen currently living in Virginia Hall for the fall 2019 semester will move out and into the newly renovated Willard Hall.
The purpose of this mid-year move is to make space for major renovations set to take place in Virginia Hall. This process will involve major updates to the hall’s plumbing systems, as well as the installation of central heating and cooling. Virginia is scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2021.
“We knew once Willard was finished, we’d be moving on to Virginia,” said David Fleming, Dean of Residence Life and Housing. “It was one of the first three buildings on campus, but hasn’t had major renovations since it was built.”
Originally, the construction of Virginia was set to begin at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. However, the renovations in Willard, which was originally set to open this fall, led Residence Life to realize renovating historic dorms was a lengthier process than expected.
“We’ve decided to move Virginia students into Willard and start Virginia five months early to make sure that one opens on time,” said Fleming.
While Residence Life has calculated the logistics of this move to ensure that Willard doesn’t sit empty, and that more time is given to renovate Virginia, the decision has left some Virginia Hall residents concerned.
“Why couldn’t they wait one more semester?” said freshman Josie Johnson. “As soon as we get here, and it’s our first time being away from home, and we’re settled here, they’re like, let’s just kick you guys out and move you over there.”
Roommate pairs will be preserved during the move unless otherwise requested, but freshman Eugene Hlaing expressed concern for the other bonds that have developed between students.
“I know that my roommate is quite close to the people who live on our floor, and I’m friends with the person who lives right across from me. So I’m wondering how social dynamics are going to change as a result of not everyone being as accessible as they previously were, or if they’ll try to configure us the same way,” said Hlaing.
Dean Fleming said that the first-year welcome process made efforts to notify students of the intention to renovate Virginia. “We started notifying them during the Destination Days,” said Fleming. “It was also mentioned on tours during orientation.”
Among freshmen interviewed about the move to Willard, however, there were some discrepancies regarding how they learned about the move.
“I think it was actually during orientation,” said Hlaing. “We were all talking about which dorms we were staying in, and then someone offhandedly mentioned that we’re not even going to be living in Virginia for the whole year.”
Johnson also said she learned through unofficial channels. “I found out two weeks before move-in,” she said. “It was word of mouth.”
The first time Hlaing or Johnson said the move was mentioned to them in an official context was by their resident assistants (RAs) during introductory floor meetings. The online web page describing Virginia Hall does not presently mention the planned renovation.
“It’s admittedly a little bit disappointing that I got more information from my roommate and other students than ResLife itself,” said Hlaing.
Another area of concern is the logistics of moving, for which Fleming stated that plans were already in place.
“The move is going to happen after winter break. We’re going to bring students in a few days early, and then we are utilizing a moving company,” said Fleming. “Students will box their belongings up, but we’ll have a moving company actually move them from building to building.”
There are plans in place to ease the transition in other ways. The RAs working in Virginia learned of the planned move during their summer training, and were able to familiarize themselves with the interior of Willard. In addition, Residence Life plans to give tours of Willard for Virginia residents before they leave for winter break so they know what to expect when they move in.
As for the planned renovation of Virginia, Fleming is optimistic about the timeframe for renovations, particularly given the experience renovating Willard has provided.
“This summer, our construction firm did some exploratory work in Virginia to learn exactly what they’re going to find,” said Fleming. “A lot of lessons have been learned from Willard. It’s the same construction firm and same architect that are doing both projects. So we should be able to hit Virginia without too many unexpected obstacles.”
While reactions from Virginia residents are mixed, Willard’s renovation and the opportunity to experience it is exciting for some.
“I think it’s great. It’s a brand new hall,” said freshman Joseph Marsh. “I don’t really care about other people moving my stuff, it only took me an hour to move in.”
In addition, some students are looking forward to the historic aspect of their new hall. “I always love historic buildings. As an intended historic preservation major, I think that living in the oldest dorm, which is also the most recently renovated, is going to be fascinating,” said Hlaing.
As for the move itself, Fleming encouraged freshmen to reach out to Residence Life with their concerns.
“We’re happy to work with students individually on what this might mean for them,” said Fleming. “Moving’s never convenient, but we as a department will do everything we can to make that process as convenient as possible.”