VSU’s Powell Hall Project Earns Historic Preservation Recognition
April 29, 2022
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator
Valdosta State University’s Powell Hall renovation project recently won a 2022 Rehabilitation Excellence Award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. Originally built as the campus library, Powell Hall now houses the music department. Pictured, left to right, Alan Sanderson, Associate Director of Facilities Planning; A. Blake Pearce, Dean of the College of Arts; Dr. Doug Farwell, trombone teacher, executive director of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and former head of the Department of Music; and Dr. Isrea Butler, Head of the Department of Music.
Powell Hall Recital Hall
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated Powell Hall as the first campus library in March 1941.
VALDOSTA – Valdosta State University is the recipient of a 2022 Rehabilitation Excellence Award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation annually recognizes significant contributions to the preservation of Georgia’s historic resources.
VSU’s Powell Hall renovation project was one of 10 Excellence in Rehabilitation Award recipients honored during the 45and annual preservation awards at Augusta.
“We are proud of this statewide recognition as it showcases our dedication to historic properties on campus,” said Alan Sanderson, associate director of facilities planning at VSU.
Powell Hall was originally built in 1940 as the campus library. It featured a Spanish Colonial Revival style and was funded by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, an American New Deal program. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a friend of Frank Robertson Reade, who was then president of the school, dedicated the new library in March 1941.
Today, more than eight decades later, Powell Hall has a renewed purpose as a teaching-learning-performance space for faculty, staff, and students in VSU’s Department of Music. The renovated facility includes student gathering spaces, practice rooms, rehearsal rooms for medium chamber ensembles, a conference room, a jazz ensemble room, a music education room, a a recital for up to 200 people, about half a million dollars in new pianos, and much more.
“The magnificent and historic Powell Hall is the pride of Georgia Avenue,” said Dr. Isrea Butler, head of the music department. “It is certainly the most beautiful music building I have seen. Featuring stunning artwork and incredible acoustics, it is sure to be sought after as a model for future musical installations.
The Georgia General Assembly has allocated $4.4 million in funding to renovate Powell Hall, an interior restoration and adaptive reuse project to support Music Department functions. VSU Facilities Planning defined the scope of work and selected Dunwody/Beeland Architects Inc. of Macon and Flynn Finderup Architects of Marietta to design the plans and specifications and SC Barker Construction of Valdosta to serve as the general contractor.
Design began in October 2018. Powell Hall reopened to the university community in January 2021.
Before any design work begins, Sanderson said his team needed to do a thorough and comprehensive study to better understand the building’s history.
“We discovered that the original 1940 building had undergone multiple additions, renovations and uses over the decades that followed,” he explained.
Powell Hall’s most significant renovation took place in 1978 after the construction of the Odum Library on the South End main campus.
“Powell Hall’s original reading room became a multi-level conference room, and the book stack areas in each wing were converted into administrative space,” Sanderson added.
Sanderson said the biggest challenge of the Powell Hall renovation project was converting the former large, high-volume reading room into a recital hall. He said the original function was not originally intended to transmit and project sound. A library reading room is actually designed to do the exact opposite.
“To develop the space to suit its new function, the acoustics had to be refined through a carefully designed application of absorbent roof panels and clear acrylic reflector panels suspended above the new stage,” said- he explained. “Adjustable wall panels were added between the windows. Adjustable wall panels allow users to alter the acoustic characteristics of the space to accommodate small bands, large ensembles, brass ensembles, or string quartets.
Prior to the Powell Hall renovation project, the only on-campus performance space available to the music department was the Whitehead Auditorium in the Fine Arts Building, said trombone professor Dr. Doug Farwell, executive director of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and former head of the Music Department. The new recital hall makes it easier for faculty and students to schedule recitals that do not conflict with other performing arts activities on campus.
“The redesign of Powell Hall has created a beautiful new collaborative and creative space for teaching, practice and performance for our students, faculty and visiting artists,” said A. Blake Pearce, Dean of the College of the Arts. . “We were fortunate to be able to design a space that recognized the historical significance of the building and met the many requirements for a contemporary music center to operate effectively.
“We are proud to be the new tenant of this great building and look forward to being the next chapter in Powell Hall’s legacy. We hope this building will serve as a point of pride for the university, for the region and for all citizens of the State of Georgia.
Contact Alan Sanderson at (229) 333-5880 or [email protected] to learn more.
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