VSU’s Powell Hall Project Receives Historic Preservation Recognition

April 29, 2022

Jessica Pope
Communication and Media Coordinator

Valdosta State University‘s Powell Hall renovation project was recently recognized with the 2022 Excellence in Rehabilitation Award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. Powell Hall was originally built as a campus library and is now home to the Music Department. Pictured left to right are Alan Sanderson, Associate Director of Facilities Planning; A. Blake Pearce, Dean of the College of the Arts; dr Doug Farwell, professor of trombone, executive director of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and former head of the music department; and dr Isrea Butler, head of music department.

img_0093powell-halle.jpgPowell Hall Concert Hall

years_roosevelt-crowd.jpgFirst Lady Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated Powell Hall in March 1941 as the first campus library.

VALDOSTA – Valdosta State University received the 2022 Excellence in Rehabilitation 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 recipients of the Excellence in Rehabilitation Award presented during the 45thth annual Preservation Awards in Augusta.

“We are proud of this national recognition as it demonstrates our commitment to historic properties on campus,” said Alan Sanderson, associate director of facility design at VSU.

Powell Hall was originally built in 1940 as a campus library. It featured a Spanish colonial style and was funded by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, an American New Deal program. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a friend of Frank Robertson Reade, then school president, dedicated the new library in March 1941.

Today, more than eight decades later, Powell Hall has a new purpose as a teaching-learning performance space for the faculty, staff and students of the VSU Department of Music. The renovated facility features student meeting rooms, practice rooms, rehearsal rooms for medium-sized chamber ensembles, a conference room, a room for jazz ensembles, a music classroom, a concert hall that seats up to 200 people, new approximately half a million dollar pianos, and much more.

“Beautiful and historic Powell Hall is the pride of Georgia Avenue,” said Dr. Isrea Butler, head of music department. “This is definitely the most beautiful music building I have ever seen. With stunning artwork and amazing acoustics, it will surely be sought after as a model for future music establishments.”

The Georgia General Assembly has allocated $4.4 million for the renovation of Powell Hall, an interior restoration and adaptive reuse project in support of Department of Music functions. VSU Facilities Planning developed the scope of work and selected Dunwody/Beeland Architects Inc. of Macon and Flynn Finderup Architects of Marietta to design plans and specifications, and SC Barker Construction of Valdosta as general contractors.

Design began in October 2018. Powell Hall reopened to the university community in January 2021.

Before design work began, Sanderson said his team needed to conduct a comprehensive and exhaustive study to better understand the building’s history.

“We found that the original 1940 building has seen many additions, renovations and uses over the decades that followed,” he shared.

Powell Hall’s most significant renovation occurred in 1978 after the Odum Library was built on the main South End campus.

“Powell Hall’s original reading room has been converted into a tiered auditorium, and the book stacking areas in each wing have been converted into administrative offices,” Sanderson added.

Sanderson said the biggest challenge in the Powell Hall renovation project is converting what was once a high-volume grand reading room into a concert hall. He said the original function wasn’t originally intended to transmit and project sound. A reading room in a library is supposed to do exactly the opposite.

“To develop the space for its new function, the acoustics had to be fine-tuned through a carefully engineered application of absorbent roofing panels and transparent acrylic reflector panels suspended above the new stage,” he explained. “Tuning wall panels have been added between the windows. The adjustable wall panels allow users to tailor the room’s acoustic characteristics for small groups, large ensembles, brass ensembles or string quartets.”

Before the Powell Hall renovation project, the Whitehead Auditorium in the Fine Arts Building was the only performance space on campus available for the music department, said Dr. Doug Farwell, professor of trombone, executive director of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and former head of the music department. The new concert hall makes it easier for faculty and students to schedule concerts 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 instruction, 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 honored the historical importance of the building while also meeting the many requirements of a contemporary music facility to function efficiently.

“We are proud to be the new tenants of this magnificent building and look forward to writing the next chapter in Powell Hall’s legacy. We hope this building will serve as a pride for the university, the region, and all citizens of the state of Georgia.”

Contact Alan Sanderson at (229) 333-5880 or [email protected] to learn more.

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