By Nick Erickson
Construction for the highly anticipated Thurston Hall renovation project is now in the homestretch, George Washington University Assistant Dean of Students for Campus Living and Residential Education Seth Weinshel said.
The project, which began in 2019, is a complete interior overhaul of the nine-story residence hall that has long been a staple on GW’s Foggy Bottom campus. The exterior façade is staying the same. The completion of the entire building will occur early this summer with time to prep for fall 2022’s move-in weekend.
“Everything will be ready in August for students,” Weinshel said.
Weinshel credited design partner VMDO and construction partner Clark Construction for working efficiently to keep the project on time.
The finished product will provide students with ample opportunity to gather as creating community and focusing on student well-being were significant points of emphasis throughout the project.
“Where students live, eat, study, work and mingle are crucial to building an affinity that lasts a lifetime,” said Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students M.L. “Cissy” Petty. “The reimagined Thurston Hall project will offer dedicated spaces and opportunities for students to get to know one another beyond simply passing through the halls. This is a building template for future designs that recognize the importance of being in a community.”
There will be 16 lounges throughout the building, including an enclosed rooftop commons that offers a sweeping, only-at-GW view of the city so students can see the Washington Monument, Eisenhower Executive Office Building and National Cathedral with one spin. Natural light will also run all the way down to the first level. At the center of it all is a wide-open courtyard that will eventually be filled with chairs, benches and other areas for students to congregate.
“The idea behind the placement of many of those lounges and the inner atrium spaces is that when you are in those spaces, you're going be able to be seen and see other students,” Weinshel said. “So, you're going to always feel like you're part of a larger community.”
A reimagined dining hall is another big highlight of the Thurston Hall update. GW has partnered with Chartwells Higher Education to transform the student dining experience with an emphasis on community and sustainability. Thurston Hall will have a dining center that seats 225 students and offers a wide variety of healthy food choices, similar to the current setup at Pelham Commons on the Mount Vernon campus.
Chartwells is scheduled to begin construction of the dining hall in mid-March or early April, Weinshel said, and should be all ready to go by fall semester’s move-in weekend. The unlimited meal plan for first-year students will be a feature in the new dining hall, which will allow for a food approach convenient to them.
“It should help with affordability of food across campus because you’re not going to have to budget the same way,” Weinshel said. “They’ll just tap their card and go in.”
The renovation served as an opportunity to improve sustainability efforts in the building such as improved heating and cooling systems while ensuring high air quality. It will open with a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
“From an energy efficient standpoint, it’s going to meet some of the highest standards out there,” Weinshel said. “From a health standpoint, brand new systems will address some of the concerns of the air handling around campus and nationally.”
Amenities inside will include a laundry room on every floor, wider hallways and staircases and gender-neutral restrooms that will be fully private, including toilets, sinks and showers.
While there aren’t any more expected road closures near the construction site on 19th and F streets, Weinshel said he expects the area to be busy when furniture delivery begins in June. He also anticipates move-in weekend in August to be busy, but he hopes the brand-new elevators—there will be three in the front lobby instead of one—will help accelerate efficiency.
He advised wishful incoming first-year students to follow the first-year housing application process, which starts in mid-to late May. Thurston Hall will house 30 percent of all first-year students at GW.
Plans are being finalized for what Weinshel calls a “Welcome Back to Thurston” event during Alumni & Families Weekend, Sept. 30 through Oct. 2. For now, everything is shaping up as envisioned when the idea for a transformative residence hall experience was conceived years ago.
“I think when the project is complete, the things we said we wanted to do–spark, energize, develop and belong–those tenets are really going to carry through,” Weinshel said. “This building is a game changer for supercharging community on this campus.”