Garrett Hall Renovations to Start This Week

October 12, 2009
October 9, 2009 — The University of Virginia's Garrett Hall will start its second century by undergoing a 20-month renovation to house the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Starting Tuesday, the building, located at the south end of the West Range overlooking the McIntire Amphitheatre, will undergo extensive interior work. The original two-floor lobby and great room will be restored, and interior walls will be moved to reconfigure office space. Site preparation will also begin Tuesday.

On the exterior, University arborists will remove two magnolia trees on the amphitheater side of the building starting Tuesday. While the trees have become familiar to generations of students, they are in the wrong place, said Joseph D. Lahendro, historic preservation architect with Facilities Management.

"They are not part of the design of the original building," he said. "They have severely damaged the sewer lines coming from the building, they are too big for the small space they are in, and they shade out the front of the building and keep moisture near it, which is starting to damage the wood and the bricks."

Garrett Hall was built in 1909 and the trees were added in the 1930s, at a time, Lahendro said, when a lot of magnolias were added to Grounds.

"They were the wrong trees to be planted there," said Mary Hughes, the University's landscape architect. "They grow too big. They want to be magnificent specimens in an open area, with their branches all the way to the ground, and here they are next to a building in a small planter."

Hughes said the trees will be replaced with more appropriate crape myrtles.

The south sidewalk will remain open during the trees' removal, with only brief interruptions.

Garrett Hall was originally known as the Commons, a central dining hall for the Grounds. In Thomas Jefferson's original design of the Academical Village, the students ate in small groups in the hotels along the range, 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 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 in the original Commons, the students sat at tables in the large, paneled great room and were served by waiters. Gilliam said there were also side rooms that could be reserved.

By the time he attended the University in the early 1950s, he said, the Commons was a more traditional cafeteria where students went through a serving line.

The 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, having been renamed after Alexander Garrett, the first bursar of the University. The bursar's office moved from Garrett Hall in the early 1980s. Other tenants have included the Office of Career Planning and Placement (now University Career Services) and administrators from the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

An underground annex was added to the east end of the building in the 1970s, expanding the amount of available office space. Some renovation will be performed on the underground offices, but the original 1909 structure is the main focus of this year's work.

"The new construction will preserve the historic great hall as a multi-purpose work and gathering space, restore the original two-story lobby, and provide administrative and faculty offices and student work rooms," Lahendro said. "The historic building will receive new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, fire suppression and telecommunication and data systems."

The great hall will be restored to its original dimensions, opening the east end of the hall to include part of the dining area that had been walled off for nearly 50 years. The large fireplace that had been part of the original Commons room will once again be part of the central hall. The "new" great room will be a reading room with study tables, audio-visual hook-ups and a video screen.

"It will be the heart of the Batten School," Lahendro said. "It can be used for a lecture hall, a study area or to serve special dinners."

All three floors of the building will have administrative and faculty offices, as well as lounges, break rooms, study areas and graduate student offices. Lahendro said office spaces in the annex will be updated.

Part of the flat roof over the annex will be used as a plaza, and the remaining part will be planted with shrubs and will have walking paths.

The collegiate gothic vaulted ceiling over the great room will be preserved, Lahendro said. The ceiling, which looks as if it were carved stone, is plaster of Paris on a burlap backing, suspended from the rafters by burlap straps.

The $8.6 million renovation is scheduled for completion by June 2011.

— By Matt Kelly