January 20, 2011— Newcomb Hall is continuing to evolve.
The University of Virginia's student center, one of the busiest structures on Grounds, is adding space, sprucing up facilities and incorporating new technology in a $33 million project being built in phases between May 2010 and October 2012.
"Newcomb Hall was built in 1954 as a student center and it has undergone renovations about every 10 years," said Dade Van Der Werf, senior project manager with Facilities Management. "We're improving the quality of the activity and assembly spaces, because Newcomb Hall is small for a student center and it is heavily utilized."
Some sections of Newcomb will close down during the three-phase project, but the building itself will remain open with as many activities as possible taking place.
"We can have, on an average day, 30 different events from 8 a.m. to midnight," said Bill Ashby, assistant vice president of student affairs and associate dean of students.
A popular venue at Newcomb Hall is the third-floor ballroom, which, along with an adjacent gallery and lounge, is currently closed for the renovations.
"The ballroom is being gutted," Ashby said. "It will be getting a new plaster ceiling, a new wood floor, state-of-the-art audio-visual, and significant acoustical treatment. We plan to have it completed by the week of graduation."
The ballroom's balcony will also be closed and converted to storage.
Ashby said while substitute venues are being found for activities, the 4,600-square-foot ballroom is hard to duplicate.
"There are not a lot of spaces on Grounds with a flat floor of that size," he said. "With the ballroom closed, there will be less traffic in the building."
The 165,000-square-foot building will expand its footprint by roughly 15,000 square feet with a two-story addition that will add about 500 new dining seats to the facility, as well as renovated activity space and a new front entrance. The new extensions will consume about 25 percent of the plaza space between Newcomb Hall and the University Bookstore (which itself is expanding its perch atop the Central Grounds Parking Garage).
Renovations to the second-floor dining space will include a complete revamping of the food preparation and presentation areas, said Brent Beringer, director of U.Va. Dining. New energy-efficient equipment will be installed, electric cookers will be converted to natural gas, seating will be increased from 885 to 1,200, and the central kitchen area will be replaced with approximately nine open food preparation areas.
"The food will be prepared to order," Beringer said, with a variety of different cuisine selections offered at different food stations.
The dining hall will remain open for the school year, but will close for the summer in 2011 and 2012 to accommodate the renovations. There will be few changes in the Pavilion XI food court, except for adding a small convenience store and expanding the seating capacity from 268 to 450.
The Cavalier Game Room, Newcomb Theater and its lobby are also slated for renovation. The theater will be closed for about a year, starting in the spring. Ashby said other sites will have to be found on Grounds to show films.
The building will also receive a new front entrance. Originally, the main entrance was on the third floor, on the east side of the building. Now the building gets a lot of traffic from the parking garage and many people – including most visitors – use the ground floor, west side entrance when they arrive on Grounds. The Newcomb Plaza entrance will be grander than it has been and look more like a main entrance.
The primary information desk will remain on the ground floor and the entrance hallway will be widened.
"With the new entrance, the corridor with be doubled in width," Ashby said. "It will be like a promenade."
About 75 percent of the plaza will be fenced off beginning in March for the expansion, Ashby said. The current ground-level door will remain accessible during construction and pedestrians will be able to travel south toward Newcomb Drive, but the northern entrance to the plaza, behind Clemons Library, will be closed.
Ashby said several student groups, such as the Cavalier Daily student newspaper, have been displaced and inconvenienced by the renovation of their office spaces, but he said they have been understanding. The newspaper office returned to its space in the basement of Newcomb Hall in November after several months of putting out its editions in a single upstairs room.
"We're thrilled with the new space," said Ross Lawrence, editor-in-chief of the independent student publication. "We had been a little catacomb-like and they opened space and put a glass wall on the newsroom, so now it's more open and visible and cheerier."
"The students aren't angry or frustrated," Ashby said. "They are just looking for help with short-term challenges."
Ashby felt the time was right for the renovation.
"Newcomb Hall hasn't had a facelift since the 1990s," he said. "You can see the wear and tear on the building."