Thurston Hall reopens with dramatic renovations, extensive communal space

Media Credit: Rachel Schwartz | Assistant Photo Editor

Thurston, which previously housed about 1,100 students, making it the largest residence hall on campus, became a target of criticism in recent years due to outdated facilities, mold and frequent leaks.

After more than five decades as GW’s black mold hub and two years as a construction project, Thurston Hall is entering its new era as one of the most state-of-the-art residence halls on campus, welcoming students for the first time since 2019.

A green courtyard area that sits directly behind the first-floor lobby greets students in a display of newly designed architecture, one of many renovations which also include additional study spaces, wider elevators and a dining hall set to be completed in September. Upgrades for Thurston had been discussed for decades after the building had become notorious for its disrepair, with upgrades announced in 2018 and formally beginning in May 2020.

“Thurston Hall will continue to provide a space for students to thrive, build lifelong connections and have a sense of belonging,” Associate Vice President for Business Services Seth Weinshel said in an email. “The new usable courtyard, multiple outdoor spaces and dozens of community spaces will allow students to connect with each other and build community.”

Thurston – which previously housed about 1,100 students as the largest residence hall on campus – became a target of criticism from both students and administrators in recent years due to outdated facilities, mold and frequent leaks. In November 2019, a small fire and subsequent sprinkler damage displaced some students from the building.

The renovated residence hall will hold 16 study lounges, 820 beds and the one to-be-completed dining hall.

When the renovations were announced in 2018, then-University President Thomas LeBlanc emphasized improving students’ living spaces as a reason for the upgrades. Officials have cited a desire to increase community as the impetus for several recent changes to student life in Foggy Bottom, including Thurston’s renovations and the construction of dining halls.

“Thurston should be reflective of a preeminent institution, and we have a vision for a dynamic, inclusive community that helps students feel at home at GW,” LeBlanc said about the renovations in 2019.

Officials are offering naming opportunities to donors for study rooms, residential rooms, lounges, community spaces and more for prices between tens of thousands of dollars for a residential room to a million dollars for the dining hall, according to the University’s website.

Student Association President Christian Zidouemba said Thurston’s new look was “marvelous” when he first toured the residence hall earlier this month, and freshmen should be “excited” to move in. He said additions like larger elevators and more communal spaces make the building more accommodating than it had been prior to the renovations.

“The way it’s been created is to give a sense of community, a sense of belonging to Thurston,” Zidouemba said.

Zidouemba said amenities like study spaces, which are available for students on each floor, give students the option of studying in a building closer than Gelman Library, which has a limited number of reserved study rooms. Zidouemba also said Thurston’s dining hall, which is set to be completed in September, will feature an automated system that enables facial recognition as an optional payment method.

More than a dozen freshmen living in Thurston said they were impressed with Thurston’s new look and excited about the building’s organization with plenty of communal space to meet new people.

Mallory Viotto, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering, said she appreciated how modern and clean the residence hall felt and how she was welcomed into the building. She said the green space on the first floor will help her connect with her friends and other freshmen.

“You can really connect with your peers and I know a lot of the freshmen are going to be living here,” Viotto said. “It’s a really great way to bond with the freshman class.”

Viotto said the abundance of study spaces will allow her and her roommates to spend time in the building outside of their room. She said the variety of study areas offer plenty of options for other floors or rooms with more space or better views.

“We were even talking about this, how much are we really going to be at our desks when we have all these amazing study rooms and everything?” Viotto said.

Elyse Arragon, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said she most-anticipated the communal kitchens and study spaces because of how they could foster community. She said the central courtyard could act as an exclusive meeting spot for students in the middle of D.C.

“The central courtyard unites all of the floors together,” Arragon said. “It acts like a green space for students in the middle of the city.”

Stella Weiss, a freshman majoring in international business, said she appreciated the accessibility Thurston provides with amenities like trash chutes and laundry. She said she also enjoyed how modern and clean her room was.

“It’s really nice to have an updated dorm,” Weiss said. “I know that’s not common for freshmen.”

Michelle Seaver, a freshman majoring in international affairs said because she lives in a one-person unit without a roommate, she will be able to meet others more easily in the common spaces. She said the warm greeting from the move-in team stood out to her when they helped her move in.

“I have a single dorm,” Seaver said. “So that was especially important for me to go and meet with people because you know, I don’t have someone to rely on.”

Olivia Earley, a freshman majoring in political science and dance, said the dining hall adds to the convenience of Thurston’s location. She said many common areas will make meeting new people easier for her.

“The common space is really nice, getting to come together with all my fellow classmates in person and just get to know people,” Earley said.

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