A DIY Campus Preservation Plan: Lessons Learned at the University of Mary Washington: A For-Credit Academic Class of Graduate Students Gets Involved with UMW's Campus Heritage and Works to Integrate It with the Overall Campus Master Planning Process

Article excerpt

The University of Mary Washington (UMW) in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was founded in 1908. This article describes the process that led to the UMW preservation plan. Unlike most preservation plans, the UMW plan was developed in-house with limited funds. Furthermore, the catalyst for the plan was a grassroots effort on the part of students and alumni to prevent widespread demolition on campus as laid out in a proposed campus master plan. The article will recount the events that led to the preservation plan; describe its integration with the campus master plan; and discuss the opportunities, challenges, and luck that can make a collaborative process fruitful or futile.

Tumultuous Beginnings

The first step toward the UMW preservation plan was an inauspicious one: public meetings on the proposed campus master plan (CMP) brought out discontent, particularly from historic preservation students. The university administration, led at the time by President Judy Hample, had contracted for a new CMP in 2008, which was first presented to the university community in fall 2010. The architectural consultants for the CMP were not tasked with including historic preservation among their concerns, with predictable results. A centerpiece of the plan was the razing of Seacobeck Hall (once pronounced Sack-O-Beck, it is now generally mispronounced See-Ko-Bek), which houses the university dining services, to make room for a new student center and dining facility. The plan also included the demolition of six other campus buildings, or close to one-third of the buildings on campus. Students and alumni, many from the historic preservation program, reacted swiftly and vehemently.

The first and most urgent fight was for Seacobeck. The building, designed by Charles Robinson in 1931 (Free Lance-Star 1931), is one of the most recognizable on campus and is an important anchor of the campus design. From its onset, the effort to save the building was led by students and alumni. Students put up posters on campus to encourage the student body to get involved, leveraged social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and held a rally as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation "This Place Matters" campaign. These efforts were documented both in the student paper The Bullet, as shown in figure 1, and in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and were taken up by numerous alumni. Letters from these alumni poured in, a number of them threatening their continued donations to the university. Thankfully, the university administration and, in particular, incoming ninth president Richard Hurley responded thoughtfully and with an open mind. Considering the strong reaction from students and alumni, the administration put demolition plans on hold and appointed the Seacobeck Resolution Committee to determine the best course of action for Seacobeck Hall and the relocation of dining services in early November 2010, less than two months after the CMP was first unveiled.

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The administration went even further: to be proactive in terms of preservation concerns, another committee was established on January 20, 2011, to create a campus preservation plan. President Hurley appointed preservation faculty Michael Spencer as author of the plan and tasked him and the committee with developing a plan that could work in conjunction with the CMP.

The choice of a rating system for classifying buildings on the UMW campus was tackled very early in the plan process, in large part due to the ongoing Seacobeck situation, which had only been temporarily placed on hold. Professor Spencer, who was also appointed as a member of the Seacobeck Resolution Committee, spearheaded this decision.

Using National Register status as the basis for building analysis was almost immediately dismissed as ineffective in the context of UMW since none of the university buildings are listed. Furthermore, a single binary system seemed too inflexible considering the variety of buildings on campus. …