The University of Lynchburg dedicated its new residence hall Friday and gave it a provisional name with an important tie to the institution’s history.
Nathaniel Marshall ’83, chair of the Board of Trustees, announced that the Board voted Friday morning to name the building Westover Hall. This was the name of the original building when the University was founded as Virginia Christian College in 1903. The name also signifies Westover Honors College, which will be housed in the new building.
“‘Westover’ is a beloved name in our University’s history,” Marshall said. “The original Westover Hall was a student residence, but it also was a center of academic and social life, much like this new building will be. It is fitting that we open the residence hall with this name.”
The University community, the Board of Trustees, and other special guests gathered on the track in front of the building to celebrate the milestone of opening the new building. At nearly 90,000 square feet, Westover Hall is the largest facility on campus.
“This new living-learning environment is the culmination of some incredible thinking and work on the part of our community,” Marshall said. “Westover Hall represents the vision, diligent efforts, and passion that our community has for providing for students.”
Marshall highlighted some of the building’s features, including 140 bedrooms, 92 bathrooms, four balconies, a rooftop terrace, classrooms, and faculty offices. It includes two residential learning communities, one for Westover Honors students and one that allows students to explore spirituality, mindfulness, and wellness together.
Other speakers spoke of the work that went into the creation of Westover Hall and gave a glimpse into what life there is like.
“The development of this new building has indeed been a journey with many twists and turns,” University of Lynchburg President Dr. Kenneth R. Garren said. He summarized the history of the project, thanking more than 40 individuals and organizations that played a role in planning, financing, design, and construction.
The project began in 2016 with a study of the University’s facilities. In 2017, the Board of Trustees voted to move forward with a plan to replace McWane Hall with the new building designed to better meet students’ needs.
Garren outlined how the work moved forward despite obstacles, ranging from construction delays to a tax plan that might have eliminated tax-free borrowing. When the building was not finished when the Fall 2019 semester began, Liberty University provided temporary student housing for free. The new building finally opened on September 14.
He praised Steve Bright, vice president for finance, for his leadership in the project. “Steve Bright has led the effort from start to finish,” Garren said. “He’s answered the questions, solved the problems, secured the financing, you name it – he’s done it all.”
Garren thanked Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. for LU’s gift of $250,000 cash and a nearby parking lot, valued at $750,000, which was donated to support the project. The building’s rooftop terrace is being named for Jerry Falwell Sr., the LU founder who attended Lynchburg College for two years.
Garren also recognized three Board of Trustees members who made financial contributions to the new building: Dr. Melanie Biermann ’71 and her husband, Marty; Hannah Besanceney ’96 and her husband, Brian; and Bob Lemon ’98 MBA and his wife, Tamara. “Their leadership on the board, as well as their financial support, has helped make this possible,” he said.
“It’s been a journey, to be sure, but one I would not have missed for the world,” Garren said. “When we hear from our students and alumni what they remember or love most about Lynchburg, many people describe it as ‘home.’ This building is not a dormitory, and even ‘residence hall’ fails to fully describe what we hope it will be. It will be a home to thousands of students over the coming decades.”
Lauren Adkins ’22, a student who lives in the new building, spoke about her experience as a member of the spirituality and wellness residential learning community. “I feel so lucky and fortunate to be a part of this new community,” she said. “Years from now, we will look at this building in much the same way that we look at Hopwood Hall, the academic center of our community. It will be a place where people love to live and learn.”
Davion Washington ’21, a Westover Honors student and president of Student Government Association, shared how he and other students were involved in the project early on.
“As a first-year student and Westover Honors fellow, I was invited to sit in on a meeting with the architects to envision this amazing facility,” he said. “My peers and I provided suggestions and feedback. Our input was accepted, regardless of class, major, experience or background. We felt included.
“Looking back at that moment and many moments since, I’m reminded of what truly makes this building so special. This hive was built by Hornets.”
Dr. Aaron Smith ’05, ’07 MEd, ’18 EdD, vice president and dean for student development, and Kristen Cooper, associate dean of students, shared how Westover Hall will facilitate student growth.
“The new residence hall will allow students to develop their leadership skills through involvement in leadership programs and opportunities,” Smith said. “It will encourage students to focus on the development of healthy lifestyle habits, and it will strengthen the sense of community students share.”
Cooper said that the design of the building focused on flexibility, collaboration and learning, accessibility, and student needs. “All spaces in the new residence hall allow students to use them however they see fit,” she said. She named several features, including private study space, active learning classrooms, and an outdoor classroom.
The Rev. Stephanie McLemore, the University chaplain and director of church relations, gave a dedicatory prayer. The event was followed by lunch and tours of the residence hall. Music for the event was provided by students and faculty in the University of Lynchburg music department directed by Dr. Chris Magee.