Batten School's New Home Honors the Past, Prepares for the Future

August 02, 2011

August 2, 2011 — The University of Virginia's Garrett Hall, which sits at the south end of the West Range overlooking the McIntire Amphitheatre, will begin its third life next month as the home of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the 11th and newest of U.Va.'s schools.

A nearly two-year renovation has restored some of the grandeur lost over the decades, and it gives the Batten School, which has been quartered in Varsity Hall, room to grow in size and prominence.

"All of us here at the Batten School are delighted by the very sensitive renovation and historical restoration of Garrett Hall," Dean Harry Harding said. "Our new home will provide not only beautiful offices for our faculty and staff, but also welcoming spaces for informal social gatherings of faculty and students."

On Oct. 20 and 21, a major two-day conference and gala banquet will celebrate the re-opening of Garrett Hall and the expansion of the school, which will welcome its first non-U.Va. graduate students for the two-year master of public policy program. Until this year, its students were U.Va. graduates who entered Batten for a fifth year, leading to the master's degree.

The $12.2 million renovation is being funded from the $100 million gift that established the school from the late Frank Batten, who was Landmark Communications chairman, and from state maintenance reserve money.

Garrett Hall, built in 1909, was originally known as the Commons, a central dining hall or refectory. In Thomas Jefferson's design of the Academical Village, students ate in small groups in the hotels along the Ranges, but by the beginning of the 20th century, the student body had grown to the point where central dining space was needed.

The building was designed by McKim, Mead and White, the storied New York City architecture firm that designed the rebuilt Rotunda following the 1895 fire, as well as Old Cabell, Cocke and Rouss halls and Carr's Hill, the president's residence.

University historian Alexander "Sandy" Gilliam said that in the original Commons, students sat at tables in the large, paneled great room and were served by waiters. There were also side rooms that could be reserved, he said.

By the time he became a student in the early 1950s, Gilliam said, the Commons had become a more traditional cafeteria where students went through a serving line.

The University's central dining room moved to the newly opened Newcomb Hall in 1958, and the Commons underwent renovation to house the bursar's office. It reopened in 1959, renamed after Alexander Garrett, the first bursar.

The bursar's office moved from Garrett in the early 1980s. Other tenants have included the Office of Career Planning and Placement (now University Career Services) and administrators from the College of Arts & Sciences.

The building originally had a two-story open vestibule that reflected the grandeur of the large columns in the front of the building. The second story of the vestibule was closed off in the 1959 renovation to make room for offices. The current renovation, designed by Architectural Resources Group / Frazier Associates, restores the two-story entrance, and the vestibule is filled with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows.

Also restored is the great hall, which was the original dining room. The room, which ran three-quarters of the main floor, was reduced by a third from the east end in the 1959 renovation. The reopened room will be used as a lounge and study area, and has also been fitted with audio and visual equipment. With theater seating and a mobile dais, it can accommodate a lecture for 200 or a banquet. The large fireplace on the east end of the hall is once again visible.

The great hall retains its original oak paneling and ceiling, an ornate design of plaster of Paris that has been painted a yellowish gold. A glaze adds luster to the ceiling.

"The great hall is a spectacular interior space that will be used for a variety of public events, both large and small for the U.Va. community," Harding said. 

It also has three stations for video cameras and space outside for a satellite truck; wireless and hard-wired Internet connections; pull-down projection screen, and a digital projector.

What had originally been a faculty dining area overlooking the main hall is separated by a glass wall so the space can used as a conference, seminar or class room. Curtains can be pulled across the glass wall for privacy.

Five chandeliers – three originals and two recently fabricated copies – adorn the great hall and conference room.

Large upper-floor windows bring natural light into the great room and into the second-floor offices that face it. The original wrought-iron Roman railings were taken out of storage and installed around the second-floor balcony in vestibule, in the windows facing the great room and in exterior windows.

Ceilings in some of the second-floor offices have been restored to their original 16-foot height.

Outside, two large magnolias that hid the handsome exterior were removed. Though they had been planted in the 1930s and were familiar to generations of students, they damaged sewer lines and their shade caused moisture to collect on the wood and bricks. The trees were replaced with ground cover and crape myrtles.

Cream and green striped awnings now shade the windows, as they did originally.
 "We only had black-and-white photos, so we didn’t know what color the original awnings were," said Brian Hogg, senior preservation planner with the Office of the Architect. "We did know they were striped."

An underground annex, added to the east end of the building in the 1970s to expand office space, has been remodeled, with a commons room, offices and mechanical and storage space.

Many of the Batten School's classes will be held in surrounding buildings, but the dean, administrators and faculty members will move into their new space later this month.

 — By Matt Kelly

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications