Housing Aims to Transform the Student Experience with New Residence Halls

August 18, 2011

Between now and December, nine buildings – comprising nearly 350,000 square feet – will open for business at the University of Virginia, ranging from new construction to renovations to additions. In an occasional series, UVA Today will profile each of the new additions to the Grounds.

August 19, 2011 — Members of the Class of 2015 moving in this week will be the first to occupy two new residence halls in the Alderman Road residence area, Balz-Dobie and Watson-Webb.

These buildings, which constitute Phase II of the Alderman Road construction project, were based on the design of the next-most-recent residence hall, Kellogg House, which opened in 2008.

The names of the new buildings reference the buildings they replaced, which themselves were named after former professors. The Housing Division had considered renovation, but came to the conclusion that "there is only so much you can do as far as changing spaces to make them more conducive to student learning today," said Patricia Romer, the University's acting chief housing officer.

Balz-Dobie and Watson-Webb will house 240 and 220 students, respectively – about 50 percent more than the buildings they replaced – with one resident adviser for 20 to 24 students and one apartment for a senior resident built into the first floor of each building.

Each building houses 10 "communities" of students. The six-story, 60,000-square-foot towers have rooms on both sides of central hallways to give a greater sense of community.

Romer said the buildings add something to the residential experience. They are "very rich in spaces that allow for social gathering and in support of academic pursuits," she said, with the entire first floor of each building designed for student use, including multiple lounges for private study, multipurpose rooms and a large open lounge that can be partitioned into two smaller spaces, along with laundry and vending areas.

Each hall also has access to a floor lounge built into the knuckle of the building where two halls connect and a private study area with dry-erase whiteboards.

Designed by architect Ayers Saint Gross and built by W.M. Jordan and Clarke Nexsen, the new buildings incorporate student feedback solicited by the Housing Division. These suggestions include "sweeps" on the bottom of room doors so that when the door closes, a piece drops out of the bottom to reduce noise transfer underneath the door.

Another feature is expanded cellular telephone service. ITS set aside space for cellular telephone providers on Grounds to improve coverage in residence houses.

Both buildings are designed for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including ramps, elevators and bathrooms that allow wheelchair access.

Although some students are randomly assigned to the new buildings, the structures will also exclusively house the Echols and Rodman scholars. Romer said these scholars, who used to live in Webb and Maupin houses, are placed together for programmatic reasons.

The buildings boast several environmentally responsible features. Room lights are four-zone, so that light level can be customized by turning each of the four parts on individually. The rooms also have occupancy sensors, though the lights are operated manually. The air handler has an energy recovery wheel that captures the heat from exhaust air and recycles it, and the whole precinct is fed by steam from McCormick Road and chilled water from the Aquatic and Fitness Center.

With a favorable construction market, planners accelerated construction of both buildings at once rather than one at a time. The project came in at $45.5 million,–  significantly under initial expectations –and was completed in two years rather than six.

Temporary certificates of occupancy were issued Aug. 11, allowing resident advisers to move in on schedule, said Dade Van Der Werf, the Facilities Management's manager for the project.

The designers preserved some of the trees in front of the residence houses. A student commons building that sits between the new residence halls, named after Ernest H. Ern, former vice president of student affairs, was crafted with this woodland space in mind. This large, open-floor-plan building, similar in structure to a barn, faces the wooded area.

"The architects and interior designers have done really nice job in making sure natural light comes in the building," said William Ashby, assistant vice president of student affairs and associate dean of students. "The glass, finishes and colors will make it feel like it's very connected to the broader environment up there."

The Ern Commons is a multi-purpose space designed to serve the residential communities. Equipped with an audiovisual projector screen, a sound system and a catering preparation kitchen, it is constructed with the goal of being able to accommodate a dinner for one building’s residents with a seated banquet capacity of 250. It will serve all of the Alderman Road residence houses, including those yet-unbuilt, with a maximum capacity of  nearly 700, Van Der Werf said. A dedication is planned later in the fall.

Ashby said some uses of the building are yet to be determined. Resident advisers will have first priority in booking the space for community mixers, but after their requests are processed by the Newcomb Hall event planning office, the space will be open to booking by any organization online through The Source.

"We know we haven't envisioned all possible uses of space, but we know students will help us do that," Ashby said.

— By Kate Colwell

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications