Virginia Tech will begin a renovation project on War Memorial Hall at the end of 2019. Working with CannonDesign, the university plans to create a more pleasant gym experience for students and bring one of the older buildings on campus into the future.
The front tower of War Memorial Hall has been a part of the Virginia Tech campus since the 1920s. It was funded by a group of alumni as a way to memorialize Hokies who fought and died in World War I. The back half of the building was added in the 1970s. The renovation project will add features such as an expanded weight room, spaces designed for mental health and air conditioning.
“(Air conditioning) and the overall aging and health of the building are what really pushed this project to be at the front,” said Ali Cross, director of Recreational Sports. “If you look at anything that folks say about War, it's that it's hot.”
But air conditioning is just the beginning. The redesign of War Memorial Hall will give it an open and inviting look from the outside to go with the cooled indoor spaces.
“It's going to look like a glassed-in facility where, when you're driving around the Drillfield, it'll light up the building,” Cross said. “It'll draw attention to the building because of the design, the lighting, and how much glass is on the building instead of just being Hokie Stone you can't peak through.”
For some, War Memorial Gym has the feeling of being just that: a gym. Cross hopes to challenge that perspective by expanding student access to different kinds of physical activity.
“I'm hoping that adding in the elements of different activity types with the trend around body weight exercise and Ninja Warrior, we'll have a space in there that will be more about strength and conditioning and not just about selecting weights and plates,” Cross said.
Weights and plates will still be given attention in the redesign.
“Now there's about 5,000 square feet for weight and cardio and that's going to about triple,” Cross said. “There are going to be some spaces that you can reserve off in the weight room.”
Some activities have been in high demand from students, and War Memorial Gym, as it stands, doesn’t facilitate them.
“Climbing is something we have had a lot of requests for,” Cross said. “The way we're designing it is recognizing the trend for exercise and people wanting to do things in group settings.”
Designs for the new and improved War Memorial Hall also place an emphasis on spaces for mental health.
“We're trying to look at well-being in multiple ways,” Cross said. “We'll be designing some experiences that are activity- and nutrition-based, there is a lot of mindfulness work that will go into this.”
Mental health is a major topic of concern on college campuses in recent years. Survey data compiled by the American College Health Association showed that 63.4 percent of students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety in the past 12 months and 41.9 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.
With this unfortunate trend in mind, Virginia Tech Recreational Sports is working to incorporate mental health into the spaces that make up War Memorial Hall. One such space will be the meditation room.
“There are some multi-purpose rooms there that will offer ongoing workshops about some healthy behavior in some sort of workshop setting,” Cross said. “But the meditation room we hope just stays open and available for people to come in and out of.”
In addition to the meditation room, plans have been drawn to build a dedicated community space for students suffering from alcohol and drug addiction.
“It's more of a community space for people that have had addictions and are trying to find a space; they don't always want to go downtown, they don't want to always be around alcohol and other drugs that might be tempting,” Cross said. “This can be a home for that. And it's outside of their own apartment, because you still want to get out, otherwise you may just feel that you're secluded and locked into your own home.”
For students interested in living a healthy life during college, the new living-learning community in Payne Hall is aimed to help them find their place with other like-minded Hokies. The new LLC will include a teaching kitchen and reviving a bridge that once connected Payne Hall to War Memorial Hall, which would give residents immediate access to the facility.
“It's just going to be people who want to be healthy physically and mentally while they're here,” Cross said. “But it's not isolated to one academic department.”
Overall, Cross hopes that redesigning War Memorial Hall sends a message to current and future students.
“It being right on the Drillfield, center of campus, that is a loud statement from the University to say that we're going to dedicate that building and put these kinds of resources into it to make health and well-being more available and better serving to our students,” Cross said.
Construction is set to begin in December of 2019 and expected to be complete in mid-2021.