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College Students Delight in Historic Digs


New college dorms offer some surprising amenities from walk-in closets, fireplaces and skylights to kitchens with granite counters, sun decks, hot tubs and swimming pools.  Here in Virginia, however, there’s another element that appeals to students.

Rooms on the historic Lawn at UVA are small, and to reach the bathrooms you have to go outside, but competition for these digs – part of Mr. Jefferson’s original Academical Village – is fierce.  This year, 221 juniors applied for one of 54 single rooms that would cost more than $7,000 a year in rent.

And at the University of Mary Washington students have just moved into the oldest residence on campus. Willard Hall opened in 1911but has been fully renovated – preserving the historic vibe while adding modern convenience: hardwood floors, open common areas, study nooks, a media room and community kitchen. Assistant Dean for Residence Life and Housing, Dave Fleming, says the project became a rush job four years ago.

“In 2016 we had a steam pipe rupture underneath the building, which buckled some of the flooring here.  We were about a year out from renovating anyway, so we decided to close a year early and start that renovation.”

Planners were determined to retain the building’s historic charm while adding modern amenities.

Credit RadioIQ
Willard Hall, which opened in 1911, has been renovated, and students give it good reviews.

“We had a historic preservationist on the construction team.," Fleming explains. "He’s actually a graduate from Mary Washington in historic preservation, and so he was able to really help us navigate some of those decisions.”

And he adds that students were consulted as plans evolved.

“A lot of the surveys that we’ve conducted indicated that the number one thing that students want is more study spaces so we were able to create some of those small study spaces for them.”

So far the new building has proven popular.  We spoke with students Kelli Marie Anderson, Max Thompson, Jessica Mims and Justin Mundie.

“It’s just nicer and newer.  The rooms are really nice and very spacious.  Do you like to cook – will you be using that kitchen?  We have used it yet, but we will.  It’s been kind of crowded, because everyone is excited about it.  I like the open design .  It’s very cool.  “I really like the study rooms.  I’ve actually used them a lot for studying and watching movies and also playing games – but don’t  tell my mom that!”

Residents also liked their location -- close to classes, the post office and a popular pizza parlor.  At UVA, students on the lawn cherish their rocking chairs and bragging rights.  Former Lawn residents include TV personality Katie Couric, basketball star Ralph Sampson, a 4-term Congressman and a U.S. surgeon general.  

***Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly included Henry Louis Gates as a Lawn resident.  While an associate of his lived on The Lawn, he actually attended Yale.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief