University celebrates Ames Hall reopening after 18-month renovation

When Board of Trustees member Cynthia Steele Vance attended school at Mount Vernon College for Women in the 1970s, she said Ames Hall was a place where no one wanted to live.

“It was dark, it was dreary, it was a little spooky,” she said of the residence hall, which once belonged to the college until GW acquired the institution in 1999.

Since the purchase 13 years ago, the University has tried to promote the appeal of the Mount Vernon Campus by transferring academic programs and creating residential opportunities on the grounds.

These efforts culminated Friday when administrators, students and alumni marked the grand reopening of Ames Hall, nearly 18 months after renovations to the building began.

After a $19 million upgrade, the now five-story building boasts 13 classrooms, faculty offices, department space, six private study rooms and a café. The University Writing Program moved into Ames Hall at the start of this semester and the building’s remaining classrooms are used mainly for introductory courses geared toward freshmen.

Among the attendees at the opening were Theresa Shingler and Wendy Wilson, who graduated from the women’s college 35 years ago and returned for the official reopening of their former home at Ames Hall. When the two lived in Ames, they figured out a back way to sneak downstairs to “raid the kitchen at night,” Shingler said.

They also recalled late-night visits from another student, Susan Ford, who lived a few miles away at home with her mother and father, former first lady Betty Ford and President Gerald Ford, in the White House.

Shingler said “it [was] awesome to see all the renovations” and, as president of an interior design company in Bethesda, Md., she said she was especially impressed by “the architectural details and the attention to the use of natural light.”

Shelly Heller, associate provost for the Mount Vernon Campus, kicked off the ceremony by welcoming the five alumni in attendance with the words: “This one’s for you.”

Heller and Jeffrey Lenn, a professor of strategic management and public policy, spearheaded the Ames Hall renovation project starting in 2008, when Lenn assumed the position of associate vice president of academic operations. Lenn served in that role for nearly three years before returning to teaching.

“I had a strong vision for this campus as an academic community, but we didn’t really have an academic community anchor on the campus.” Heller said. “For a long time, the Vern has been one of GW’s best-kept secrets. I am thrilled that an increasing share of the GW student body are getting to see all the resources the Vern has to offer.”

Provost Steven Lerman called West Hall and Ames Hall the new residential and academic cornerstones of GW’s second campus.

“We now have that density and level of activity here that will propel this part of the University into being an ever more critical component,” Lerman said.

With the increase in space this semester, the provost said University officials are deciding the future of Post Hall, an academic building on the other side of the campus quad that houses the interior design program. He said options include increasing faculty and studio space for the program.

Lerman also plans to expand opportunities for professors to go on sabbatical through a yearlong program that would require working from Mount Vernon while teaching an honors course for one semester. The University Honors Program will migrate the majority of its freshman services and optional freshman housing to the Vern in the fall.

Many faculty members have expressed interest in becoming more involved on the satellite campus, Lerman said.

“Mount Vernon is now poised for a second chapter, and I speak for myself and my fellow alums, we are happy to be a part of it,” Steele Vance said. “We are pleased that GW loves this campus as much as we did and will give it a new life and a new chapter.”

This post was updated on Feb. 6, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly characterized the University Honors Program move to the Vern by saying the majority of its teaching and living functions to the Vern campus in the fall. Freshman optional housing, some classes and a second UHP office will be moving to the Vern.

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