Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Preservation vs. Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets

I hate to keep picking on Virginia Tech, but they've been making it so easy lately. First with their plans to cut part of the old growth Stadium Woods to make way for a new indoor football practice facility, and now with their plans to tear down 3 of the oldest buildings on campus to make way for a new dormitory for the Corps of Cadets. The latter has earned Virginia Tech a place on Preservation Virginia's 2012 Most Endangered Historic Sites list.

Lane Hall, Virginia Tech
Lane, Rasche, and Brodie Halls make up the Upper Quad, creating a picturesque courtyard used daily by the Corps. Lane Hall was built as Barracks No. 1 in 1888 and currently contains offices for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Rasche and Brodie Halls are both Cadet Corps dormitories each with an older section built in 1894 and 1900 respectively and newer additions made in the 1950s. The buildings of the Upper Quad are some of the few remaining buildings on campus to be built of brick rather than the Hokie Stone form of limestone that adorns construction after 1900.

Drill Field, Virginia Tech, 1890s
photo from Virginia Tech Special Collections
In Virginia Tech's defense, the modus operandi of the university over the years has been to tear down and rebuild - they're just following long held tradition. Today, most of the earliest buildings on campus are gone. The view on Blacksburg's Main Street where a Preston and Olin Institute building once caused the street to jog around it and the buildings of the Drill Field have both changed significantly over the years. The same thing would never happen at the University of Virginia where the Lawn and Rotunda are considered sacred and have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though parts of Virginia Tech's campus could be nominated to the National Register, the designation has not been pursued. A notable exception is Solitude, the early 1800s home of Col. Robert Preston, from whom the land for Virginia Tech was acquired in 1872.

Solitude, Virginia Tech
As in all cases of preservation, the facts can be spun to support whichever side of the cause you'd like. For developers, or university officials who want to tear down a building or 3, that means pointing out things like cracked plaster and the lack of air conditioning to make the point that the buildings should be replaced. We've heard that the bean counters have been given such a tour of the buildings and asked to determine how much it will cost to demolish them. We can only hope that an equivalent and fair determination of the cost of renovating these buildings is also being prepared.

The greenest building is the one already built. Rather than just paying lip service to the idea of sustainability, reusing and retrofitting older campus buildings like these would go a long way toward real sustainability. So would preserving Stadium Woods.

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