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U.Va. Alumni Association submits plans for new Alumni Hall building

The proposed new building would remain on the current lot on the corner of Emmett Street and Lewis Mountain Road

The Association uses the current Alumni Hall building throughout the year to host several events for students, University administrators and alumni, including bingo nights, reunions and football tailgates.
The Association uses the current Alumni Hall building throughout the year to host several events for students, University administrators and alumni, including bingo nights, reunions and football tailgates.

The University’s Alumni Association has submitted a preliminary site plan for a new Alumni Hall building. The proposed building will be a complete rebuild with a more contemporary interior and more public-use event spaces, and will be located on the current 3.15-acre lot where Emmet Street and Lewis Mountain Road intersect.

Centerbrook Architects and Planners, an architecture firm in Connecticut who has worked with schools including Yale University and Duke University, designed the proposed site plan. According to Lily West, Alumni Association president and CEO, support for the development will come from a fundraising campaign called “A Home for Every Hoo.” West said the Association is still in the early stages of planning this campaign, and that they have not yet begun large-scale fundraising efforts.

The Association operates as a separate entity from the University. According to their website, the Association aims to use their independence to represent the voices of alumni and to connect alumni to each other and to the University through events. The Association uses the current Alumni Hall building throughout the year to host several events for students, University administrators and alumni, including bingo nights, reunions and football tailgates. 

However, West said the Association’s work often involves hosting large groups, and that the rooms of the existing Alumni Hall building are not big enough to accommodate these gatherings. She also said the building, which the Association has operated out of since 1936, often impedes their work because of its outdated technology. West said the Association needs a building that has multi-use spaces able to hold large amounts of people and make use of new technologies, including interactive digital exhibits. 

West added that the proposed building’s increased flexibility would allow the Association to reimagine current events, provide more services to the Association’s 270,000 person-large alumni network worldwide and create additional partnerships across Grounds. 

“Our new building will allow us to do the good work we're already doing in addition to facilitating new forms of alumni engagement that will benefit the entire University community,” West said.

Because of the age and deterioration of the current building — including water damage and outdated hardware — West said the Association often struggles to perform even its daily operations. According to West, connecting alumni to Grounds through Alumni Hall is critical because alumni can be instrumental in helping the University grow, evolve and meet the needs of future generations when they feel invested in Grounds.

“Now more than ever, having an engaged alumni base is essential to having a thriving University,” West said. “In order for that to be true, not only do you need passionate, involved alumni, but you need a facility that can service their needs and facilitate the work that we do.”

The Association’s independence from the University means they must pay property taxes to the city and their building must follow the city’s land-use regulations.  The Association was granted a special use permit by the city in 1980 for use as a private club, and the permit was amended in 2016 when the Association last modified the building. The permit allows for the land to be used for a different purpose than the permitted usage for that zoned area. 

The Association submitted a preliminary site proposal in August to the City of Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services. A new Charlottesville zoning ordinance that reclassifies the Alumni Hall lot as Residential A, low density housing intended for single-families, took effect in February. However the new building proposal is allowed under the special use permit since the proposal was filed prior to the rezoning.  

Charlottesville City Planner Dannan O'Connell said after the preliminary plan is approved after reviews by the City, the Association will submit a final site plan that will also be reviewed. O’Connell said the City reviews the first submission within 60 days and every edited submission sent in subsequently within 45 days. He said that while the number of review rounds it takes for a site plan to be approved varies between projects, the Association’s proposal appears straightforward to him and will likely not be difficult to push through the review process. 

According to O’Connell, the final site plan will be considered a by-right project, meaning the proposal does not have to be voted on by City Council, streamlining the process.   

The City held a public review meeting April 30 for adjacent property owners to become familiar with the site plan and ask questions. O'Connell said those in attendance were in favor of the plan, but that there were traffic questions regarding parking at the new building and the impact on roads during construction. 

O’Connell said he does not think the renovation would have enough of an impact on traffic in the area to merit a traffic study, which analyzes potential impacts a new development will have on surrounding traffic. He also said that the new building is not required to add more parking spaces than the current Alumni Hall has due to a provision in the city's new zoning ordinance. 

According to O’Connell, the Association plans to change the traffic pattern with the new building. He said they will divert traffic from the residential streets of Lewis Mountain Road and Emmet Street to Sprigg Lane. According to O’Connell, this move means the new development would have less of an impact on nearby residents and those living off Lewis Mountain.

Similarly, West said the Alumni Association wants to continue to be considerate of its neighbors, and that it will prioritize having as little of an impact on the rest of the neighborhood as possible during construction.

“Minimizing disruption to the neighborhood and those other properties that abut [Alumni Hall is] a top priority,” West said. “We want to be good neighbors — my hope is we’ve always been good neighbors — and we want to continue that through this process and be as mindful as we can about minimizing disruption.”

Thomas Boyd, University alumnus and resident in the Lewis Mountain neighborhood, said the residents are experiencing traffic slowdowns presently due to various construction projects along Emmett Street and Alderman Road, including the new Contemplative Commons, the Ivy Corridor projects and scoreboard renovations in Scott Stadium. 

Boyd said that though the current construction projects have disrupted traffic around his neighborhood, he thinks the Alumni Hall renovation is a beneficial project and that he is not particularly concerned by potential slowdown and traffic issues. 

“I think that during that construction, [the Association] will do all they can to help mitigate problems,” Boyd said. “There will be some slowdown and probably some traffic issues that we'll have to deal with, but hopefully some of the other [renovations] that are going on right now will be over.”

Boyd also said that he is glad the new Alumni Hall is staying in the same location, due to the excellent relationship between the Association and the surrounding neighborhood over the years. He said it is good that the Association offers so many programs close to the University for students and alumni, especially those alumni living in the neighborhood. 

“[Alumni Hall] has a lot to offer in different programs,” Boyd said. “It presents some programs that [students] or alumni can go there and see and hear, [including] different speakers.”

West said that despite the proposal moving through City Council’s review process, the project is still years away from becoming a reality, and the timeline for the development depends on when the Association is able to secure funding for it.

“We are really at the beginning of that process,” West said. “In many ways, there's a lot more work to be done before we talk about breaking ground.”


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