A new theater, the renovation of the fine arts complex and upgrading student housing are among the proposed projects in the University of Mary Washington’s $100 million 10-year-plan.
UMW president Troy Paino presented the university’s plan for capital projects through 2027 at a Fredericksburg City Council work session last week, at the invitation of City Manager Tim Baroody.
Of special interest to council members is the proposed construction of a new theater at the corner of William Street and Sunken Road, where Marshall residence hall is located now. That dormitory would be demolished for the theater, which Paino said will probably seat 300-400 people.
The new venue would be the primary rehearsal and performance space for the UMW theater program, freeing up the existing Klein Theatre for use by other fine arts disciplines such as music and dance.
“Klein Theatre was built in the 1950s when there were only 1,000 students,” Paino said in an interview Wednesday. “It has inadequate ancillary space for set design, dressing rooms, lighting and so on. We have to expand the footprint—we can’t just renovate it.”
He said UMW’s theater program is “robust,” with three graduates currently starring in Broadway shows.
“I would challenge any college in Virginia to beat that,” he said.
With the theater department occupying the new building, space would be freed up in the existing fine arts complex—Pollard, Melchers and duPont halls—for music and art.
These buildings would be extensively renovated at the same time the new theater is built.
“Pollard right now is not [American Disabilities Act]-compliant and it is in desperate, desperate need of attention,” Paino said.
UMW is currently seeking $75 million in state financing for the new theater and fine arts renovation.
“We know it’s a challenge to ask for a capital project on an off year,” Paino said.
The General Assembly approved a biannual budget for the university last year, but Paino said he has given tours of the fine arts buildings to several legislators already and hopes he can convince them that the need is there. At minimum, he hopes the state will approve $3 million or $4 million for the project’s planning stage.
If all goes according to plan, the new theater would open in the fall of 2022.
Paino said its location on William Street will be “a nice gateway into downtown.” He said the university will continue talks with the city about possible joint use of the venue. Fredericksburg officials have been discussing the need for a performing arts center in the city for many years.
“The city is interested in us allowing some form of access to the theater and at this stage of the game, everything is on the table,” he said. “We’re committed to continuing the conversations.”
At its work session last week, City Council members were enthusiastic and expressed willingness to support UMW’s efforts to seek funding from the General Assembly and to partner with the university on the theater.
“I personally think it’s a great opportunity for the city and the university to provide a much-needed performing arts theater for the community,” Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said Thursday.
Paino said that while UMW is committed to its STEM-related disciplines—renovations and additions to the Jepson Science Center are almost complete and will double the square footage of the building—it also wants to bolster its fine arts offerings.
“We’re putting major emphasis on STEM and hiring new faculty, but we still believe passionately that the arts play a very important role in a liberal arts education and in the lives of our students,” he said. “You can come here and major in biology, but also be in a theater production.”
Another project of interest to the city is the demolition and rebuild of the UMW Apartments on William Street and College Avenue. The apartments house 320 students now and would be expanded to house 500 to 600.
That project is scheduled for 2024, but could be moved forward if housing need exists, Paino said. It would be financed by the University of Mary Washington Foundation, which also owns Eagle Landing, and the buildings could be mixed-use like that development, with shops and restaurants on the ground level.
The university will assess housing needs once students are re-established in Arrington Hall, which is set to reopen next week after being closed this semester for mold remediation and other renovations, and renovations to Willard and Virginia halls are complete.
It will balance the capacity of the newly renovated buildings with the loss of beds from the demolition of Marshall and the closure of Alvey—the twin of Arrington that also developed mold after this summer’s excessive rainfall.
“[Alvey and Arrington] were not well built when they were constructed in the 1990s. They were built on the cheap. I imagine people were trying to be cost-conscious, but sometimes the lowest bidder isn’t the best,” Paino said.
He said the buildings have bad exhaust systems, inadequate humidity control and poorly-designed wall insulation, which all met their match in this summer’s weather. He said renovating Alvey is “not the best investment” and that the building will be “mothballed.”
Students who were to live in the residence halls have been housed in Cobblestone Square at an expense to the university of $300,000-$400,000 since August, Paino said.
“It will be nice to have them back on campus,” he said.