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Introducing West Hall

A black-box theater, dance and music practice rooms, a fitness center, and apartment-style suites give students living in this eco-friendly residence hall on the Mount Vernon Campus an experience like no other.

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William Atkins

By Jamie L. Freedman

Amid mountains of boxes, duffle bags, and laptops, the GW community celebrated the grand opening of West Hall—The George Washington University's newest residence hall and campus life center—this fall. The state-of-the-art facility, overlooking the university's tennis courts and athletics fields on the Mount Vernon Campus, opened its doors in late August and is quickly becoming a vibrant hub of campus life.

An innovative, mixed-use structure, West Hall houses two buildings in one. The four upper floors are home to 288 freshmen and sophomores residing in four-person, apartment-style suites composed of single bedrooms, furnished living rooms, kitchenettes, and private bathrooms. Each of the residential floors includes a communal study area, laundry room, and full kitchen.

West Hall's campus life center, occupying the two lower levels of the building, features a bright, spacious dining hall; fully-equipped fitness center; 150-seat black-box theater outfitted to professional quality standards; high-tech recording, fine arts, and dance studios; six music practice rooms; a digital media room; and 50,000 square feet of student meeting and event space.

Jessica McConnell

"I believe West Hall will truly be the jewel of the Mount Vernon Campus," says Senior Project Manager Peter Chew, who oversaw the building's two-year construction process. "West Hall was designed with a lot of input from students and includes many of the amenities that students felt were most needed on campus."

According to Mr. Chew, student collaboration played an invaluable role in the design process. Ryan Geraghty, BA '10, of the Student Theater Council, for example, led the way on the sound and lighting systems for the black-box theater and senior Marty MacAlister provided valuable input on the physical space and equipment requirements for the recording studio. "This is the first time in my twenty-plus years in the field that students were brought to the table to help design a residence hall, and it was a unique and rewarding collaboration," says Mr. Chew, who joined GW's Facilities Department in 2002 and previously managed the construction of the Ivory Tower residence hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus.

Students lounge in the living room of their apartment-style suite.

William Atkins

Targeted for Gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating system, West Hall incorporates a number of sustainable design elements aimed at optimizing energy efficiency, water conservation, and indoor environmental quality. Solar tubes, for example, transport natural light from the exterior courtyard to the lower levels of the building. Low-flow faucets, toilets, and showers reduce water usage in the building by around 40 percent. Environmentally-friendly, low VOC (volatile organic compound)-emitting paints, caulks, and adhesives were used throughout the facility, and all wood used in its construction was certified as sustainably cultivated.

The new residence hall also sets a high standard when it comes to academic enrichment offerings. According to Rachelle S. Heller, associate provost and chief academic officer for the Mount Vernon Campus, West Hall houses three new, interdisciplinary living and learning communities: "The Green Earth Year," for students interested in environmental sustainability and living the green life; "We Serve: A Civic House," for students attracted to civic engagement and public service; and "The Creative and Performing Arts Community," for students passionate about artistic expression and the creative process.

The new residence hall includes a theater for student performances.

William Atkins

"The new building brings a much larger, vibrant community of students to the beautiful Mount Vernon Campus and enhances the academic experience for its residents through these three wonderful living and learning programs," Dr. Heller says.

"Living and learning programs give participants the opportunity to live and engage with students with similar interests, enriching the campus experience for all," says Andrew Goretsky, director of GW Housing Programs. "So often, students focus solely on their majors, and these offerings give them a breadth of knowledge across the disciplines and bring great experiences right to their doors."

Students in the Green Earth living and learning cohort will spend the year examining the technical, business, and social aspects of sustainable living. The program is directed by Melissa Keeley, assistant professor of geography, public policy, and public administration, who resides on the top floor of West Hall (see sidebar). "My research focuses on LEED green building standards in cities, so the opportunity to live in a green residence hall and work with the Green Earth cohort is very exciting," she says.

The suites include four single bedrooms.

William Atkins

"For West Hall's Civic House, we've teamed up with GW's Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service to offer students the opportunity to participate in service learning opportunities focusing on education, leadership, and responsibility," Mr. Goretsky says. Civic House students will engage in a variety of service projects, attend cohort meetings featuring guest speakers, and take the lead in planning university public service activities.

Leslie Jacobson, professor of theatre, heads the Creative and Performing Arts Community as faculty mentor. The program, she says, explores all forms and facets of performance and the creative process, using artistic expression as an agent of societal change. "GW students are passionate about making the world a better place," says Professor Jacobson, who was closely involved in the planning and design of West Hall's black-box theater. "Theater and the arts touch people in very profound ways and our living and learning community at West Hall is a great vehicle for helping us address challenges in our society and make a real difference."