*** This story was published January 25, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
A campus tour might be in order, whether you are a graduate, financial supporter or just a person interested in higher education, because the University of Virginia's College at Wise has made numerous impressive changes and has more planned this year and beyond.
From a school that came up hardscrabble on the former county poor farm, UVa-Wise is coming into its own.
Traffic flow has been altered in the most sweeping building project ever undertaken on the campus. The college has truly become to a pedestrian-friendly campus and moved vehicle traffic to the outer perimeter. The so-called "campus entrance project" began in June 2007 and was completed in August 2008. The work used $2 million in state general funds and changed the main vehicle entrance to develop a drop-off point at a pedestrian level near the Slemp Student Center. It also added a pedestrian walkway that replaced the dead-end road between the Chapel of All Faiths and Crockett Hall.
Crockett Hall, the original campus building, is a focal point of the renovations. The former dormitory that long sat vacant and unused now houses admissions, financial aid, academic advising, the registrar's office and the bursar's office. The renovation cost about $6.9 million in state bond funds. The college has preserved the historic look of the building, but every detail of its interior is modern and efficient. Chancellor David Prior spoke like a proud parent during a recent tour, showing off modern office space, comfortable furniture for waiting parents and students and cheery plants. He was particularly proud of private areas set aside for families to be able to talk about the financial aid available to help pay for college.
Prior continued a tour that included a stop at the chancellor's residence to see a pavilion added about a year ago to accommodate events held there. Previously, a tent was used to cover a portion of the exterior deck and patio. The renovations also included new windows, landscaping and a revised entry foyer. The project cost $1.3 million and was paid for with private donations.
Some of the biggest campus projects are underway now or will begin later this year.
The college is already building a massive new center for the arts adjacent to its existing theater building; the finished building will occupy most of the space once used for the college's outdoor graduation ceremonies. It will include classroom space for the department of visual and performing arts, a black box theater, a central courtyard and an art gallery. It will give the music department a home away from the collection of trailers that has been its base.
We are excited and pleased by this project because the construction and move will elevate the theater and music programs at the college to new highs. UVa-Wise is fortunate to have talented music and theater professors; its physical plant will soon match the quality of its instructors.
The college also is in the midst of a $13.4 million renovation of its science building, which will include providing spaces for geology, software engineering and physics. This work is being paid for by state bonds and will include upgrades to the building's heating and cooling systems and fire suppression system.
The most-exciting new construction on campus will get under way this spring -- a $30 million convocation center that will seat 3,000 people for athletic and other events. It will be located opposite the Carl Smith football stadium along Darden Drive. Prior said parking for the center will be stacked up the hillside from the center, and will include absorbing two practice fields in that area.
The center will be a jewel for the region. It will allow the college to host regional sports tournaments, graduation ceremonies, concerts and other uses that have not been envisioned yet. Prior is right when he says the convocation center will increase the college's name and reputation throughout the region, the state and beyond.
The work being done now at the college will boost its recognition and reputation for years to come. Teens will come to the convocation center for regional sports tournaments. They will come to the center for the arts to see regional plays. They will come to football games and cheer in the stands. And each exposure will make them want to be part of the learning and fun that is going on at this campus. One day they may move into the new dormitory, now under construction, as the next generation of Cavs.
For alumni and friends, seeing the campus growing this much is inspiring. It is bound to make people want to be part of it, and want to give more. It is an exciting time at UVa-Wise. These projects were already funded, or in some cases complete, before the state budget chaos erupted. For that we are thankful.
None of this progress is cheap; all of it is needed. Thankfully none of it is in jeopardy.