Over the next five weeks, Virginia Tech will take the initial steps to transform the former Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center into an innovative, fully integrated Graduate Life Center encompassing academic, social, residential, and administrative functions.

"The Graduate Life Center is a reflection of Virginia Tech's commitment to advancing graduate scholarship and building graduate community,” said Karen P. DePauw, dean of the Graduate School. “It will be the hub of graduate student life, providing students with opportunities to meet and collaborate with faculty and peers across disciplines, develop skills for academic and professional success, and maintain a healthy work-life balance."

The Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown, a joint endeavor of the Graduate School and four departments in Student Affairs (Housing and Dining Services, Residence Life, University Unions, and Student Activities) will provide a place for graduate students and faculty to interact, build social networks, and make connections. Its residence rooms will provide a graduate community convenient to many of Virginia Tech’s dining and academic buildings, as well as downtown and the Blacksburg Transit and SmartWay bus stops. It will offer a broad range of programs, events, and services such as meetings, discussion groups, workshops, and seminars.

Eventually it will include the Graduate School itself, said DePauw, who described the proposed facility as “an innovative complex, unlike any we have found at other institutions."

“The opening of the new Graduate Life Center will significantly enhance the living and learning experience for graduate students,” said Edward F. Spencer, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “Additionally, by relocating many graduate functions to Donaldson Brown, we are freeing up time and space in Squires to serve better the needs of the university, particularly those of undergraduate students.”

The Donaldson Brown renovation from conference center to graduate life center will be done in two phases. Phase I is this summer’s five-week renovation, involving work to bring the hotel’s three floors of hotel rooms and Alumni Hall’s two floors of hotel rooms up to code for residence hall use. Workers will make improvements to doors, window blinds, data wiring, and electrical work.

Graduate living quarters in the Donaldson Brown complex will open for occupancy at the beginning of fall semester 2005.

The electrical work, said Tim Gift, associate director for facilities management, will enable the university to use the facilities as residence hall rooms—for people who reside there for longer periods of time than in a hotel. The electrical work also includes upgrading to low-wattage fluorescent lights for greater illumination.

Phase II renovations, occurring in 2006, also will involve both sections, Gift said. The goal, he said, is to occupy the entire complex this coming fall, then next summer complete the overall renovation project.

Donaldson Brown, which had guest rooms, meeting rooms, and an auditorium, closed July 1 prior to the opening of the Inn at Virginia Tech July 10. When the hotel and conference center closed, the operational control of the entire Donaldson Brown/Alumni Hall complex was transferred from the university’s Continuing Education Auxiliary to the Housing and Dining Auxiliary, said Edward F. Spencer, associate vice president for Student Affairs.

“The challenge,” said Lynn Eichhorn, director of contracts and renovation services, “is to change the occupancy use from a hotel to a residence hall in five weeks.” Changes made during that time include, a new laundry and mail room on the third floor. This summer, workers will put in new residence hall-style desks and chairs, place beds for single occupancy in most rooms and double occupancy in seven rooms. The facility will not offer living space for married students and families.

Even though renovations to Alumni Hall will be included in Phase II, its rooms will be brought up to code for student living for this fall. At the end of the fall semester, Alumni Hall will close to allow for further renovation. Students will resume occupancy in the Alumni Hall portion in the fall of 2006.

Hugh Latimer, a Virginia Tech architect, said Phase I work also will involve renovating a meeting room into a computer laboratory, a library resource and reading room, temporary office space for general graduate-student use, and renovations for a video-conference room. Space will also be set up for a graduate lounge and also rooms for health and wellness.

Phase II of the renovation of Donaldson Brown will be carried out in the spring and summer of 2006, Latimer said. Renovations will finish outfitting a student lounge, as well as a professional-staff apartment. Additional security for a multi-tenant building will include electric card keys to access living quarters, Gift said. The dining room on the first floor will be converted to a multipurpose room that can be reserved through University Unions and Student Activities (UUSA)’s Event Planning Office starting Fall 2005 and a coffee shop—an Au Bon Pain facility that officials expect to be open this fall.

The Donaldson Brown auditorium will be used as a lecture hall during the week, managed by the Registrar’s Office, and may be reserved for events during evening hours and weekends through the Event Planning Office. In addition, the building will be brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards in phases, with any section to be occupied brought into compliance in time for occupation.

Phase II will include such things as further upgrades to Donaldson Brown guest rooms. In Alumni Hall, the second floor and existing offices at the mezzanine level will be renovated for the Graduate School offices. The current first-floor administrative offices in Donaldson Brown will be converted for student-group use.