Administration officials set demolition of Robinson Hall as high priority

Whether or not Mason goes forward with plans to demolish Robinson Hall depends on how much funding it receives from the state (photo by Amy Rose).
Whether or not Mason goes forward with plans to demolish Robinson Hall depends on how much funding it receives from the state (photo by Amy Rose).

The deliberation is complete: Robinson Hall is in desperate need of an upgrade.

According to Provost Peter Stearns, the Robinson project is based largely on the fact that the building is outdated.

“We are short on classroom space in Fairfax by state standards, so we think we can amply justify the need for the kinds of improved classrooms that the Robinson reconstruction will allow us to have,” Stearns said. “The classrooms [in Robinson Hall] aren’t up to contemporary standards. They mostly have fixed seats and are inflexible. That’s not the kind of classroom you want anymore.”

Built in 1975, Robinson Hall houses about 30 percent of Mason’s classrooms. Since its completion, no significant upgrades or improvements have been made to the building.

The project was originally intended to be a renovation, but after reevaluation demolition was deemed necessary.

“We came to the conclusion that to make Robinson work the way we would want it to work, renovating was essentially the same cost as demolishing and starting over again because of all the major changes we’d have to make to the structural system to make it be a building of the 21st century,” said Thomas Calhoun, vice president of Facilities Management.

The replacement of Robinson Hall is part of an effort to incorporate collaborative technology into all of Mason’s classrooms and to create separate buildings for the different schools and colleges within the university.

“Robinson, as every student who’s been here for a while knows, is kind of a catchall building,” There’s English in there, there’s history in there, there’s math in there, there’s labs in there – there’s a little bit of everything in there. But now that we’re a more mature university, we’re building facilities that are purpose built,” Calhoun said.

Robinson Hall currently houses the dean’s office for the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) and numerous departments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS). The new Robinson Hall is planned to be a central hub of CHSS, while CHHS offices will move to another planned building called Academic Seven.

The construction of Academic Seven and the new Robinson Hall go hand in hand. In order to compensate for the loss of classroom and office space, Academic Seven must be completed and CHHS fully moved into it before the Robinson Hall demolition can take place.

The Robinson project would involve multiple phases over the course of two years.

“The first phase of it would be to demolish Robinson A. Classes and offices would remain in Robinson B. We would demolish Robinson A and build a new building on top of the spot where Robinson A used to be. And then when that’s done and everyone’s moved in, we would demolish Robinson B,” Calhoun said.

According to Stearns, the new construction could also be beneficial to student learning.

“With this plus Academic Seven, we’ll be able to handle the enrollment expansion that we anticipate and students will be in classrooms more appropriately designed for current teaching and learning methods,” Stearns said. “We’re finding that when classes are taught in these newer classrooms where there’s more opportunity for student participation, student grades improve.”

However, there may be potential challenges to execute the plan. In order to go ahead with the project, Mason must receive funding from the state of Virginia.

“This particular project is in the phase where we’ve asked for the money but we haven’t figured out whether it’s in the governor’s budget or not. It’s on the wish list,” Calhoun said.

Every two years institutions like Mason wishing to receive money from Virginia’s general fund must submit capital requests to the governor. The governor and his staff then create a budget which is sent to the General Assembly for review. After legislative negotiation and the Governor’s signature on the final budget bill, the new budget is passed on July 1.

The governor’s budget for 2014-2016, which may or may not contain funding for the Robinson project, is due to come out in late December. Mason has requested $98,504,000 from the state to fund the building of the new Robinson Hall.

If the project ends up in the General Assembly’s July 1 budget bill, then demolition and construction of a new Robinson Hall will go forward with the target completion date of the fall semester of 2019.

Although the project has not yet received funding, Robinson Hall reconstruction remains a top priority for Mason officials.

“Our strategic plan is focused on producing 100,000 degrees in the next ten years, so we need to have space to be able to do that. This project does provide additional, efficient classrooms – ones that people want to use,” Calhoun said. “We can’t accomplish our mission of producing those graduates without great facilities to attract students, train them, educate them and help them produce their degree.” 

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