Construction disrupts top-floor Hill residents
Before Liberty University freshman Justin Holdstock packed his belongings, before he met his new roommates, before he rode his bike to his new dorm on East Campus, he was a normal college student living on the Hill, one of Liberty’s oldest housing facilities.
On Monday, Oct. 15, at 1 p.m., Holdstock received an email from his resident director, requesting an important hall meeting. As his eyes scanned the notification, the cold realization of leaving his beloved dorm became a reality.
“With all the leaking, water damage and the smell of mildew throughout the hall and rooms, I knew something was going to have to change,” Holdstock, who lived on the top floor of Dorm 22, said. “I went to the meeting knowing we were going to have to move.”
Heavy construction and renovation have aggravated Hill residents all semester, particularly students living on the top floors. However, this complication did not deter students from building friendships and making the most of their college experience.
“It’s a really great community on the Hill,” Holdstock said. “I really do think it’s one of the best I’ve seen on campus.”
In July, incoming students who would live on the Hill received email notifications warning of construction, but many students remained in their chosen housing.
Unlike several other dorms dotting Liberty’s landscape, the Hill facilities do not contain common rooms. Instead, Hill residents use each other’s dorm rooms as “hang-out” areas. This is where Holdstock made his first friends in college.
Construction clogged space between buildings, preventing students from utilizing both dorm entries. This inconvenience, according to Holdstock, hindered the relationship between dorms because the construction equipment created physical barriers between buildings.
But construction was not originally supposed to reach this magnitude. What started as simple renovation soon escalated to something unforeseen.
“I didn’t know (the construction) would block one side of the building,” Holdstock said. “It took me a couple days to work around it … but I didn’t think there would be this much construction.”
According to Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Mark Hine, aesthetics along with aging roofs played an important role in the original construction decision, which would include new roofing, renovated bathrooms and common areas.
“When the Divinity Tower went up, it exposed a lot of things that no one had ever seen before,” Hine said. “(The Hill) didn’t match the décor of the rest of the university.”
The seven buildings atop the Hill were erected in the 1980s, years before the Jerry Falwell Library, the School of Music or DeMoss Hall entered the scene. Once the Divinity Tower — Liberty’s tallest building— came to fruition, the structural disunity between the Hill and other campus sites became apparent.
According to Hine, the Hill’s mismatched appearance prompted the need for new roofing, along with an additional floor and renovated bathrooms.
But everything changed when Dorm 22 exposed complications.
“When they started peeling back, they found out something they did not know,” Hine said.
Rebar — reinforcement bars that strengthen concrete — did not reach the top of the building of Dorm 22, which demanded important attention. Water damage and discoloration, which could possibly be mold, also caused minor concerns.
These realizations prompted administrators to act.
“It wasn’t about safety, even though that’s what a lot of people assumed,” Dustin DuBose, executive director of Resident Life, said. “We made the decision to move (students) based on the fact that we didn’t feel we could guarantee a quality on-campus living experience.”
The situation accelerated when Hurricane Michael unleashed intense rainfall on Lynchburg, causing even more impairment on the Hill dorms.
“Water is going to find a way,” Hine said. “The system they were using to keep water from coming in was not ready for the rain Hurricane Michael gave us.”
During the hall meeting Monday, Oct. 15, it was announced that the top floors of 22 and 23 must evacuate and disperse to different locations around campus. This required separating friends, RAs and entire halls.
“There were definitely people who were frustrated, which is understandable,” DuBose said.
Several days later, plans changed when administrators realized only Dorm 22 posed serious living inconveniences in the form of leaks and water damage. A bathroom ceiling tile in another dorm fell, but administrators said that did not justify evacuating an entire floor.
“These are really complex issues,” Hine said. “Nobody goes at it with the intent of making students’ lives (miserable). We don’t approach it that way.”
Sophomore Joel Hartzler, who moved three times throughout the commotion, expressed sincere gratitude when he heard he could return to Dorm 23, his original Liberty home.
“When everyone found out (we could move back), it was like (we) won the lottery,” Hartzler said. “Every single person was ecstatic just because they could stay together.”
Not only were friends reunited, but administrators announced that construction on Dorms 20, 21 and 23 would be postponed until summer.
Since Dorm 22 revealed the most complications, students from its highest floor cannot return until construction finishes next semester.
According to DuBose, more than 40 students moved from 22-3 to different places around campus, and several moved off campus.
After construction, the students from Dorm 22 will have the option to return to the Hill or live elsewhere.
“I hold the view that God has a plan,” Holdstock said. “If we weren’t going to trust him through this, when are we going to ever trust him? I’ve seen the plans for what they’re trying to do, and it looks really good. I think it will ultimately benefit the community here more than tear it down.”
It was a trying time for many students, including Hartzler, who described the process as a once in a lifetime experience.
“Having to pack up everything and move while I had so much going on was difficult, to say the least,” Hartzler said. “I am thankful now to be back where I started in my original room on 23-3. Through all of this, the entire hall on 23-3 has grown so close.”
The RAs on 22-3 moved next door to 23-3, where they will serve however necessary.
Hartzler said the community on the Hill is unlike any other dorm community at Liberty. He said the entire construction situation brought him closer to his friends.
“Through it all, the Lord has taught me to be grateful in all my circumstances, especially since it is such a blessing just to be able to be here at this school,” Hartzler said. “My home wasn’t the Hill, it was the guys on it. Leaving them hurt the most.”