HARRISONBURG — The history department at James Madison University has moved from the oldest building on campus to the most recently renovated.
Wilson Hall was built in 1931 and sits at the top of the Quad. With its tall stairs and white columns, it serves as the focal point when you look up the long, grassy Quad.
It has not received any major work since its construction. But for the last 20 months, the building has received a facelift, as well as a rethinking of how it can serve students and faculty.
The Wilson Hall auditorium was the very first large gathering space on campus and has been home to university presidents, the campus post office, student organizations, the art department and even a radio broadcast studio. Beginning on Monday, the JMU history department will be the hall’s newest occupants.
The building was open to media and stakeholders to tour on Monday.
Maura Hametz, head of the history department, is new to JMU and the history of Wilson Hall. She started on July 15, coming from Old Dominion University.
Hametz and a number of graduate students have recently been researching the history of the building. For example, Wilson was the last building to be designed by the person who designed the main campus. Woodrow Wilson’s wife was at the dedication of the building in 1931.
“We’ve been digging into the books to create a timeline of major events,” said Nick Srausser, a history graduate student. “We’ve been looking in special collections and Breeze articles, just trying to find as many primary sources as we can.”
They’re trying to condense this wealth of knowledge into digestible nuggets of information, said Sam Constantine, also a history graduate.
In terms of the building, classrooms are almost done, as is the auditorium. About 40 faculty and staff members moved in this week. There is a history lab, an abundance of areas for students to sit and work together. There is even a lactation area, and an area for recording podcasts, Hametz said.
“We’re excited to share the space with alumni and students,” she said.
“In many ways the project represents a marriage of the type of heutagogy and educationalist institution JMU was when it opened, and where the university is going,” said Chris Arndt, an academic liaison to the construction project.
Arndt has had a close working relationship with the history department and construction workers. “It enhances the versatility of teaching and helps teachers look into the future.”
The total cost of the renovation was $16 million.