Prince William campus prepares for opening of graduate housing

Beacon Hall (Photo courtesy of Alex Perry)
Beacon Hall (Photo courtesy of Alex Perry)

The new Beacon Hall housing building at George Mason University's Prince William campus will officially open its doors to graduate students on Nov. 3.

The five-floor building will be Mason's first housing structure designed solely for its graduate student population.

"It's going to be a marvelous facility," said Ron Carmicheal, Chief Operating Officer for the Prince William campus.

Carmicheal described Beacon Hall as the first step of Mason's vision for a more innovative, biotechnology focused campus.

"It's the first building in what is commonly referred to as the 'town center’ concept," said Carmicheal. "The university has been in discussions about developing a town center adjacent to the campus which would support campus life and grow a population that's interested in education."

According to Carmicheal, this project will support students by providing a shopping and residential environment similar to Fairfax Corner. Beacon Hall provides 152 apartment style beds in 112 units.

"Things that'll support our students will actually be contained in the town center, and we'll have things on campus that will attract people in the town center to want to come on campus," said Carmicheal.  "It's a win-win situation for all of us."

There are currently no plans for undergraduate housing at the rural Prince William campus. According to Carmicheal, Mason's priority for housing at Prince William is for graduate students, and any future construction plans will be focused on that.

"I would say in five to ten years you'll probably see plans to build a building very similar to Beacon Hall, because this is going to fill up," Carmicheal said.

"We have graduate students from Arlington [campus] that'll be living in Beacon Hall," Carmicheal said,"[so] there's discussions about the possibility of doing something similar to Beacon Hall in Arlington, but it would be a very expensive proposition."

Carmicheal said attracting businesses to the Prince William campus is one of the top goals for its long-term vision. Beacon Hall, for instance, will have retail parking for the shops and restaurants that will occupy the retail space on the first floor of the building.

"In order to attract [businesses] you have to make sure they have space for their customers to park," Carmicheal said.

Campus authorities learned this lesson from their previous difficulties with customer traffic at Randall’s Café in the Occuquan building.

"Randalls is available for our business partners who occupy space around here like Lockheed Martin, Micron, and the FBI, but nobody ever comes over here to eat," Carmicheal said. "If they park in our parking lot they're going to get a ticket for fifty bucks. It really drives the point home that you have to have retail parking space if you're going to have people come in from off campus."

Part of the campus’s vision is to attract biotechnology companies to the area by offering science-oriented facilities, such as lab space. For example, American Type Cultural Collection, a global bio-resource and research organization, uses lab space in Discovery Hall. 

According to Carmicheal, every building on campus has an active research laboratory, and a new life sciences building currently under construction, is solely dedicated for labs.

The first two floors of the new three-story structure will be used for university research, while the third floor will remain available as a wet lab incubator space. This space is meant to attract start-ups in the bioscience industry.

"If I have a new company and I need lab space, but I can't afford as a new entrepreneur to build or buy lab space, [then] I need somebody to build that lab space for me so I can get my business started," Carmicheal said.

Carmicheal used a spin-off company for applied proteomics and molecular medicine as an example.

"The company looked at northern Virginia, but there wasn't any space to establish themselves because there wasn't any incubator lab space available, so they went to Maryland," Carmicheal said. "So this company which was founded in Virginia had to move to Maryland to have the lab space that they needed.”

Carmicheal said attracting start-up companies that specialize in the life sciences is a priority for the Prince William campus.

"That's the way life science campuses should work, because one of the things we want to be able to do is to help support the local economic development within the area," Carmicheal said. "Economic development offices like to see campuses in their jurisdiction because businesses align with universities, and that helps growth in the area."

Carmicheal said that families attracted to Prince William’s campus opportunities, such as the Freedom Aquatic Fitness Center and the Hylton Center of Performing Arts, drive growth.

"One of the things that businesses look for when they relocate [is] what's in the regional area [that's] going to benefit my employees," Carmicheal said. "[Also], what does the population in that particular area look like in terms of education and sophistication, because that's the potential labor pool that I'm going to have for my business.”

Beacon Hall cost $14,257,868 to build, while Discovery Hall cost $30,770,128.


No votes yet
Student Media Group: