UMW senior Maggie McCotter loves the sunlight that streams into her third-floor Willard Hall room. She likes the rustic gleam of the refurbished hardwood floors under her feet, her view of the bubbling Palmieri Fountain, the building’s proximity to the post office and Vocelli Pizza.
“I take pride in being one of the first to live here” after an extensive renovation, she told students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends gathered in the structure’s main living area for a dedication on Friday.
A Willard Hall resident assistant, McCotter joined 156 first-year students who moved in at the start of the spring semester in January, but last week’s event, part of a daylong Board of Visitors meeting, makes it official. Generations have made their home at Mary Washington’s oldest residence hall, built in 1911. But McCotter and her charges are among the first to enjoy a new type of turn-of-the-century splendor, where modern touches – a media room, “teaching” kitchen and transformable spaces – mingle with prized pieces from the past.
Architects worked tirelessly to preserve the elegance of the building, which originally housed dining, offices and classrooms, plus a post office, infirmary and gift shop, according to History of Mary Washington College by Edward Alvey Jr. The $19.3 million renovation salvaged brick walls, maple hardwood floors, ornate iron banisters, molding and trim, and original skylight shafts, along with parts of the building’s open floorplan.
The fresh look is a “testament to how committed we are to our future,” UMW President Troy Paino told the crowd, while showing respect for what came before.
Assistant Dean for Residence Life and Housing Dave Fleming thanked those on hand, including representatives from Train Architects, Newman Architects and Kjellstrom and Lee Construction, which handled the project; UMW Capital Outlay Program Director Gary Hobson, who led it; and historic preservation major Sam Biggers ’16, who provided expertise and advice along the way. The structure’s design was also informed by more than 1,600 student and alumni survey responses.
Fleming had been in his role for a matter of weeks, he said, when a steam pipe rupture prompted the sudden closure of Willard and hastened its planned renovation. Paino thanked Fleming and his staff for handling the crisis and other recent housing issues with immediacy and care, calling students’ residence hall experiences a “critically important part of college life.”
“This is a very poignant moment for me,” said BOV Rector Heather Mullins Crislip ’95, who called the three years she spent in Willard as a Mary Washington undergrad some of the best of her life, fostering friendships that endure today.
Between a community space with foosball tables and comfy seating, and a sprawling kitchen designed to accommodate culinary presentations, she recounted details of Willard’s past from a recent talk by UMW Professor of Historic Preservation Michael Spencer. The building, named for 19th-century American educator, temperance leader and suffragette Frances Willard, a college dean and president, is twins with Virginia Hall, which was completed in 1915 and is now undergoing its own renovation.
Along with Monroe, Willard and Virginia were the first buildings on the 112-year-old campus of UMW, originally called the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg. A $1.72 million renovation in the late 1970s and a second, much more modest makeover in 2006 preceded Willard’s recent transformation.
“Thank you, Willard, for what you’ve given thousands of alumni and for what you’ll continue to deliver in the future,” Crislip said. “I really love this building.”