The University of Virginia has expanded its student housing stock by one room – not by building something new, but by restoring something very, very old.
During the past several years, University Facilities Management crews have been renovating the bathrooms on the Range and Lawn – part of Thomas Jefferson’s original Academical Village, dating back to the University’s founding – and this year the bathroom in 51 West Range was on the list. Its entrance was through No. 53, which was formerly a residence before being converted four decades ago into an anteroom, essentially a waiting area with a sofa and chair.
The renovation gave Facilities Management and the Housing and Residence Life Division an opportunity to restore 53 West Range as a room for a graduate student.
“We thought it would be a better use of the space,” said Brian Hogg, senior preservation planner with the Office of the Architect.
“Room 51 has two showers, two toilets and two sinks, all within the footprint of the original student room,” said James Zehmer, historic project manager for Facilities Management. “The exterior doorway to Room 51 was blocked and students entered through room 53, through what had been a closet.”
Maintenance crews closed off the connection between the rooms, re-established No. 51’s separate entrance and installed in No. 53 a ceiling fan, a new sink, a smoke detector, Internet connections and Housing Division-supplied new furniture.
“Room 53 has one of the older closets, with a six-panel walnut door, and we were able to restore that,” Zehmer said.
The restored room will house a graduate student, as do most of the residences on the East and West Ranges.
Hogg said that all of the restoration work was performed by the University’s own skilled craftsmen. Zehmer credited the Eli Bananas, a University society founded in 1878, with supplying more than half of the approximately $38,000 spent to restore the room.
There are few records of when the room was converted into a women’s bathroom, but it appears to have been done about 40 years ago, when the University went fully coeducational. The men, of course, already had access to restroom facilities of their own.
“Based on my discussion with our longest-serving staff and the resource center at Facilities Management, this renovation was likely done after 1970, but prior the first woman to occupy the Lawn in 1972,” said Patricia Romer, director of plans and programs for the Housing Division. “It was done by University staff in Facilities Management. As to why the room was converted, we do not have any records that go back to that period, so it is not known with certainty.”
Four original Range rooms are not being used as student housing, according to Hogg. Aside from the bathroom in 51 West Range, one is dedicated as the Edgar Allan Poe Room (13 West Range) and another is used as accessory space to Hotel D. The fourth was demolished to accommodate the construction of Levering Hall.