Campus transformation continues with massive student housing project

January 11, 2013

From 1972 to 1989, the foundations for high-rise residence halls never completed stood abandoned near the site of Liberty University’s football stadium. In their own peculiar way, the foundations became a monument to the university’s vision for the future.

Now, on a different site, plans are being made for the campus’s first high-rise residence tower, 40 years after the residence halls were first envisioned. In fact, the same company that started the project in the early 1970s, English Construction, was awarded the contract for this project, which is scheduled to begin this spring.

The eight-story tower is expected to be completed in time for the 2014-15 academic year. It will provide 1,200 beds, enough to replace all 16 “temporary” residence halls built in the 1970s in Liberty’s Champion Circle housing area. Then, once the remaining Circle population has been accommodated, Liberty plans to construct another 1,200-bed high-rise tower and additional towers as needed.

The residence halls are part of a general transformation of the Liberty campus, which includes new academic buildings and an expansive quad with a lake and lawn that will serve as a central common area for studying, socializing, and relaxing with a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  At the heart of the campus is the state-of-the art Jerry Falwell Library, now under construction. All new buildings will feature a modern version of Jeffersonian architecture.

The kickoff for the residence hall project will begin with the demolition of residence halls 1-4 on Champion Circle next to the Vines Center, the school’s primary assembly and athletic facility. About 350 students were relocated to off-campus housing at the former Lynchburg Quality Inn, which the university recently purchased.

The Quality Inn building is adjacent to Liberty’s Residential Annex (the former Lynchburg Inn), which has its own dining hall and about 500 beds. Students at both sites will share the dining hall, and frequent bus service will continue to and from campus.

Sophomore Louis Hensler shared his excitement when he heard he would be moving.

“All of the guys are sticking together, so I’m happy about that,” he said. “I think it’s good that Liberty is trying to grow and expand. I’m excited the campus is getting nicer and improving. I think overall it is a good thing for the university.”

As Liberty expands its on-campus amenities, it should be able to accommodate future growth and bring its student body closer to campus. Liberty Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said the objective is to reduce the need for transient automobile traffic to and from the campus that clogs roadways and requires construction of parking lots for commuters. “Students will be able to ride bikes, walk, and ride buses to and from campus,” he said.

Within a decade or so, the new residence facilities will be able to house Liberty’s East Campus population (2,800 beds) in addition to the entire Circle and Annex population. At that point, the university will consider selling both hotels, Falwell explained. East Campus would then become Liberty-owned student apartments, accommodating many students who now commute several miles daily.

Private real estate developers have also indicated that they may build housing complexes near the school. One concept would allow students to rent rooms around a common living area without the need for a standard lease legally obligating roommates for each other’s rent.

Liberty acquires Sears building to assist in transition

Liberty purchased the former Sears building at River Ridge Mall for $6.9 million in October 2012. The 112,000-square-foot building, with 700 parking spaces, will be used in the short term to house Liberty’s non-academic departments, freeing up space for several academic departments to relocate while their buildings are being demolished and new ones are built.

Once the new academic buildings are constructed, faculty and staff from those departments will move to their new spaces on main campus and the university plans to vacate the Sears property. Liberty has presented a proposal for the site to eventually become a new Lynchburg Civic Center, with the university as its primary tenant.

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