Old First-year Houses Make Way for New Residence Halls

June 15, 2009 — Three residence houses will fall and two will rise up to take their places.

This summer, Dobie, Balz and Watson houses, part of the Alderman Road dormitories, will come down, to be replaced by two new dorms that will house more students, be more efficient and more green. Construction should begin during the first week of August.

The new halls will be constructed on the sites of Watson and Dobie, while the site of Balz will become a recreation field and a one-story commons.

Adjacent dorms, including Lile, Webb, Cauthen and Kellogg houses, will remain during construction.

The two new dorms will each be six stories tall. The first floors will hold public common spaces, seminar rooms, laundry and vending spaces, and an apartment for the resident adviser coordinator. Each upper floor will offer a common lounge and quiet study room. Each floor will also have two residential communities – each comprising 10 to 12 double student rooms, a common bathroom and a resident adviser room.

Between the new buildings, a new 7,000-square-foot commons building will provide an assembly space to accommodate residents of one house at a time.

The buildings are being constructed on a steeply sloped hillside, affording students views of Scott Stadium, the Rotunda and the surrounding mountains.

This is the latest step in a plan to replace 11 1960s-era residence houses with seven newer buildings and increase the number of rooms for first-year students by 10 percent. Each of the old dorms housed 144 residents, while the two new buildings are designed to hold a combined 420 students. With Kellogg House, which opened last year for 192 students, there will be space to accommodate increasing first-year enrollment.

Trish Romer, director of plans and programs with the Housing Division, said the doomed dorms were constructed in the 1960s and "have gone through their systems' useable life." She said the buildings were examined and would cost more to repair and upgrade than replace.

The current phase of the project – the demolition of three old dorms and construction of two – is estimated to cost $40 million. The construction will be funded through a combination of savings and bonds, which will be paid off through housing fees.

While they are being demolished, the buildings are not going to be thrown away. Romer said at least 50 percent of the materials from the old dorms will be recycled. The buildings are concrete slabs resting on concrete pillars, with stud and gypsum interior walls and a brick veneer.

Some of the bricks are destined for fundraising. The Students Affairs office has requested 250 bricks from each building, said Danny Steeper in the Student Affairs development office. He thinks there will be a market for the bricks, with a minimum donation of $200 per brick, among alumni with fond memories of their first residence halls.

"The first-year experience is very powerful," Steeper said. "It's developing an identity and forming long-time friendships."

The future residence halls' names remains uncertain. Alexander "Sandy" Gilliam, former secretary to the Board of Visitors and currently the University historian, said the question of names from buildings that no longer exist will soon be addressed.

The buildings in the Alderman Road area were built in two waves in the 1960s as part of a construction boom sweeping universities across the country. Courtenay, Dunglison, Fitzhugh, Dunnington, Tuttle, Lile and Maupin houses were completed in 1964, and Balz, Dobie, Watson and Webb were completed in 1966. Two buildings were added later, Cauthen House in 1996 and Woody House in 2000.

— By Matt Kelly

Albert George Adam Balz (1887-1957)

Balz was a Charlottesville native who received a bachelor's degree (1908) and a master's degree (1909) from U.Va. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1916. After completing his residence requirement at Columbia in 1913, Balz returned to the University as an assistant professor in philosophy and was promoted to associate professor upon completing his Ph.D. in 1916. In 1917 he married Dorothy Dean and they had three children. An instructor and adjunct professor of philosophy from 1910 to 1912, Balz became full professor in 1920. For many years, he was chairman of the philosophy department, as well as chairman of the Charlottesville School Board.

Armistead Mason Dobie (1881-1962)

Born in Norfolk, Dobie received three U.Va. degrees – a bachelor's degree in 1901, a master's degree in 1903, and a bachelor's of law in 1904 – and in 1922 he received Doctor of Juristic Science from Harvard. As a law professor at the University, he was a specialist in federal procedure and was dean of the Department of Law from 1932 until he retired to accept a federal judgeship for the Western District of Virginia in 1939. He was appointed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 1940. He retired from the bench in 1956, married Elizabeth McKinney in 1958, and died in 1962.

Thomas Leonard Watson (1871-1924)

Born in Chatham, Watson received bachelor's and master's degrees from what was then the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Tech), in 1890 and 1893, respectively, and subsequently took a Ph.D. from Cornell University. While there, he was a member of the sixth Peary Arctic Exploration, which went to Greenland in 1896. A researcher at the U.S. National Museum, assistant geologist of Georgia and teacher at Denison University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Watson was the Corcoran Professor of Geology at the University from 1907 to his death in 1924. He was also state geologist from the founding of the office in 1908 until this death. He married Adelaide Stephenson of Atlanta in 1899 and they had two daughters and four sons.