Dorms will see massive $60 million renovation

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, June 15, 2017

Next summer will bring a new look for the two tallest buildings in Farmville.

Longwood University’s Curry and Frazer halls — located between South Main and Spruce streets — will undergo a massive renovation and remodel inside and out in sequence “with an outside-the-box architectural plan to turn them from eyesores into architectural assets,” according to university officials.

Though which of the two 10-story buildings will see work first hasn’t been determined, the first will see work begin shortly after graduation in 2018, with work scheduled to wrap up by fall 2019. The second building will see work beginning after graduation in 2019 with work concluding in fall 2020, according to Longwood University President W. Taylor Reveley IV.

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“The innovative renovation plan will preserve the steel and concrete structures of the old buildings — saving millions in expenses compared to other options,” university officials said in a press release. “But other than their skeletons, the buildings will be completely rebuilt, with brand-new mechanical systems, interior designs, furnishings and a reconstructed, attractive exterior that will be a source of strength for the Farmville skyline.”

The 45-year-old residence halls account for a quarter of Longwood’s total beds on campus and house 70 percent of first-year students, according to the release. “Following the renovation, Curry and Frazer will continue to house the same number of students as they do at present.”

According to Reveley, around 800 students live in the two buildings — a number that will remain the same following their renovation.

The renovation decision was made during Longwood University’s Board of Visitors meeting last weekend.

Justin Pope, the chief of staff to Reveley, said there is “wasted space” in the existing buildings, noting the design for the new buildings would “open up the floor plans.”

“The hallways are narrow,” Reveley said, adding the existing common areas were narrow in the buildings and “the rooms are a little bit smaller than they need to be, and so the (new) rooms are configured a lot in the same way the Sharpe and Register hall’s rooms are configured. And one particularly neat thing is a common area was added at the end of each hallway (of each building),” Reveley said of the proposed improvements.

“The feedback that we got, and we talked to a lot of students, was basically … people love being around other people, but the way you set up the design of the buildings, there’s this balance to strike,” Pope said. “You want the rooms to be comfortable, attractive and offer some privacy, but you also want the space to encourage people to interact, to do things. …”

The project will be undertaken by the Longwood University Real Estate Foundation and cost approximately $30 million for each tower for construction, or a total of $60 million, against the backdrop of roughly $200 million in various capital projects now at different stages of the construction pipeline on Longwood’s campus, according to the release. “The design team includes Little Diversified, Franck & Lohsen and Cooper Robertson Partners, and the contractor will be English Construction.”

The new version of the buildings, in conjunction with substantial site work and new landscaping, will open up more widely, not just to campus, but also to Farmville on the South Main Street side, fulfilling a key goal of Longwood’s Master Plan to link the university more closely with town, officials said in the release. Updating Curry and Frazer is a key idea of the Master Plan.

“When the master planning process was going on a couple years ago … this neck of the woods was really considered to be a vital area to get right soon enough for two big reasons,” Reveley said of the area of the two buildings, noting the current designs of the two buildings have their backs turned to South Main Street, citing it created “an actual barrier between the town and campus. And then secondly, right now, Curry and Frazer … when you’re taking the postcard shot of Farmville, you kind of have to angle (the buildings) out of the shot.”

According to the press release, the Real Estate Foundation “evaluated options including partially renovating the buildings as well as knocking down one or both and building from scratch. It concluded the most cost-effective option, as well as the one best suited to advance Longwood’s goals for the student residential experience, was to take the buildings offline one at a time for a complete renovation.”

“The breakthrough was to figure out that if you just took Curry and Frazer down to … their skeleton — just the steel, just the concrete, which are the most expensive parts of construction these days — you could then rebuild on that frame, saving that money, but have completely new buildings,” Reveley said.

The construction process will be similar to what took place at French Hall at the intersection of Venable and High streets more than a year and a half ago.

“This kind of a renovation, reimagining of them, is an effort to maintain their scale (and) maintain their energy, but to bring their character into harmony with Farmville and campus,” Reveley said.

According to the release, the financial advantages of the project over other options are twofold. “First, it preserves the scale and density of housing that Curry and Frazer currently offer, which creates substantial cost efficiencies. And second, given the current enrollment distribution within Longwood’s student body, there is a narrow window to renovate Curry and Frazer sequentially without needing to build additional student housing ‘swing space,’ which could cost $20 million or more.”

The buildings’ exterior will include wider windows and new brickwork that will transform their appearance to reinforce the historic character of the campus and downtown.

“It’s kind of like a door to campus,” Pope said of the space between the buildings.