Virginia Tech Magazine

Volume 14, Number 2
Winter 1992


University develops a creative plan for meeting critical space needs during tight budgetary times.

by Su Clauson

Virginia Tech has some of the finest facilities in the nation -- a fiber optics laboratory, an outstanding architectural design laboratory, an acoustically excellent theatre, and many others -- but it simply doesn't have enough space.

  • The lack of space at Virginia Tech, in fact, has reached crisis proportions. According to standards set by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, the university has a deficit of almost 500,000 square feet, which is nearly one-third of the total statewide space deficit for senior institutions. Some of our buildings are among the oldest unrenovated structures owned by state institutions of higher education.
  • Because of increas- ing enrollments and research demands, we have made no progress toward reducing our space deficit over the past 15 years through state funding of new construction. And the deficit is likely to continue to grow; a predicted record number of students will be entering Virginia's colleges and universities in less than a decade.

Our present deficit of nearly 500,000 square feet equals almost five Burruss Halls. In eight years, the deficit is projected to reach 940,000 square feet, which translates into a one-story building the size of the Drillfield.

The Need

Our classrooms, faculty offices, laboratories for student research, and even hallways are crowded. Facilities are insufficient for sponsored research, which has been growing at a rate of 20 percent per year. There is little space for group study in Newman Library, and faculty and graduate students doing research there have no assigned carrels.

Recognizing that full funding from the state is unlikely, the administration at Virginia Tech acknowledges the need for creative, cost-effective solutions to these space needs and has developed an integrated plan that saves more than $30 million over the cost of new construction and addresses the three areas of highest concern:

  1. library space (25 percent of projected deficit),
  2. general-purpose academic space -- mainly offices and classrooms (23 percent)
  3. laboratory, and other specialized space needs (45 percent).

The Proposal

The proposal--developed by administrators, faculty members, and planners--recommends relatively few new construction projects in favor of upgrading existing facilities.

  1. To solve the library space problem, it recommends building a high-density storage facility and converting the bookstore to library space, after constructing a new bookstore.
  2. To solve the academic space problem, the proposal calls for renovating and converting the oldest residence halls on campus--those on the upper quad--to academic use and replacing the lost student housing with new quarters near the other residential buildings on campus.
  3. To solve the laboratory space problem, the plan recommends developing a series of construction proposals consistent with the university's infill concept.

The conversion of the upper quad would generate nearly 250,000 square feet of space for office, classroom, and other academic use. The plan would improve the quality, safety, and variety of residence halls on campus. Double-occupancy rooms predominate now. The new facilities would accommodate some single occupancy rooms, suites, and other housing options.

The conversion can be completed for $84 to $92 per gross square foot, saving the university approximately two-thirds of the cost of new facilities, a consulting firm hired by the university estimates. Moreover, the conversion would save the university the cost of replacing electrical, plumbing, and heating systems and other renovations necessary to keep the upper quad in residential use. A new dormitory to replace Major Williams Hall already was approved in the 1990-92 budget.

As buildings are renovated, related departments and programs would be shifted together to new locations. The College of Education, now housed in eight far-flung locations, would be housed on the upper quad in one or two contiguous buildings, except for the Department of Health and Physical Education (to remain in War Memorial Gym).

Communication Studies and English would occupy one upper quad building, as would social science programs such as economics and sociology. The natural sciences would be grouped together in the northwest part of campus.

Once the conversion takes place, Shultz Hall would house specialized facilities such as art studios, television production facilities, and other production facilities that would benefit from the open space now used for dining services.

The Corps of Cadets would return to Eggleston Hall, which was designed and built for the corps; overflow housing for the Corps would be available in East Campbell. The military science department would be moved to War Memorial gymnasium.

A new facility is planned for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to provide space for modern laboratories and other specialized uses.

The high-density storage facility for library books would have the capacity to hold 1 million volumes--15 times the number of books per square foot of space that a traditional library holds. The book-store conversion would provide an additional 30,000 square feet of library space. The storage of little-used volumes would free valuable stack space for other uses.

A new bookstore would be constructed with bookstore revenues to replace the existing one.


The university has been developing approaches to address its space needs over the past several years. For example, in the mid-1980s, the university set forth a plan to renovate and expand Squires Student Center to meet both academic and student space needs. Through this effort, the university has opened some of the finest performing arts space in the country.

In 1988, the university initiated a pilot plan to test whether some of the older dormitories might be renovated for faculty and staff office space and a new residence hall constructed to improve the quality of student life. This concept was embraced by university and state officials and authorized by the 1990 session of the General Assembly.

In addition, during the early days of the McComas administration, the university developed a comprehensive facilities planning process to look at ways to build on earlier initiatives through the renovation and conversion of older space and the construction of new facilities. These efforts have resulted in what has been known since 1990 as the integrated space plan for the university.

Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer Minnis Ridenour says the plan provides "a sense of direction--a reasonably coherent pattern of campus development" that can guide capital outlay and campus master planning during the next 10 to 15 years.

If a bond referendum for this plan is approved by the General Assembly, the next projects would be scheduled for completion during the 1994-96 biennium.

"The question you have to ask is, 'Does this strategy present a sensible overall plan for the campus?' Relying on new construction will not address program needs quickly enough. We must look to creative and effective means to address our space needs and must work with the state in finding ways to jointly address our need for facilities. We believe the integrated space plan is such an approach," Ridenour says.

Proposed new look of the central campus

  • Corps of Cadets and military sciences
  • Residence and dining halls
  • College of Agriculture
  • College of Architecture
  • College of Arts and Sciences, fine arts
  • College of Arts and Sciences, humanities and social sciences
  • College of Arts and Sciences, natural and physical sciences
  • College of Arts & Sciences, mathematical sciences
  • College of Business
  • College of Education
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources
  • College of Human Resources
  • Library
  • Academic and student support
  • College of Veterinary Medicine

Proposed new buildings

  • Creative arts center
  • Chemistry/physics phase II
  • Engineering/architecture
  • Agriculture/forestry research labs
  • Physical fitness center
  • New university bookstore

Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 14, Number 2 Winter 1992