April 29, 2022

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

VSU’s Powell Hall Project Earns Historic Preservation Recognition

Valdosta State University's Powell Hall renovation project recently earned a 2022 Excellence in Rehabilitation Award from The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. Originally constructed as the campus library, Powell Hall is now home to the Department of Music. Pictured, from 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 Department of Music; and Dr. Isrea Butler, head of the Department of Music. 

img_0093powell-hall.jpgPowell Hall recital hall

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

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University is the recipient of a 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 Excellence in Rehabilitation Award recipients honored during the 45th annual Preservation Awards in 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 constructed in 1940 as the campus library. It featured a Spanish Colonial Revival style and was funded through United States 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 the school president during that time, 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 VSU’s Department of Music faculty, staff, and students. The renovated facility features student gathering spaces, practice rooms, rehearsal rooms for medium chamber ensembles, a conference room, a jazz ensemble room, a music education room, a recital hall capable of seating up to 200 people, approximately half a million dollars in new pianos, and much more.

“The beautiful and historic Powell Hall is the pride of Georgia Avenue,” said Dr. Isrea Butler, head of the Department of Music. “This is definitely the finest music building that I’ve seen. Featuring stunning artwork and amazing acoustics, it is sure to be sought after as a model for future music facilities.”

The Georgia General Assembly allocated $4.4 million in funding to renovate Powell Hall, an interior restoration and adaptive reuse project to support the functions of the Department of Music. 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 to serve as general contractor.

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

Before any design work commenced, Sanderson said his team had to complete an extensive and exhaustive study to better understand the history of the building.

“We discovered the original 1940 building had multiple additions, renovations, and uses over the decades that followed,” he shared.

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

“The original Powell Hall reading room became a tiered lecture hall, and the book stack areas in each wing were converted to administrative space,” Sanderson added.

Sanderson said the biggest challenge with 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 convey and project sound. A library reading room is actually designed to do the exact opposite.

“To develop the space to meet its new function the acoustics had to be fine-tuned by a carefully engineered application of absorbent roof deck panels and clear acrylic reflector panels suspended above the new stage,” he explained. “Tunable wall panels were added between the windows. The adjustable wall panels enable users to switch the acoustical characteristics of the space to suit small groups, large ensembles, brass ensembles, or string quartets.”

Before the Powell Hall renovation project, the only on-campus performance space available for the Department of Music was Whitehead Auditorium in the Fine Arts Building, said Dr. Doug Farwell, professor of trombone, executive director of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, and former head of the Department of Music. The new recital hall makes it easier for faculty and students to schedule recitals that do not conflict with any other performing arts activities on campus.

“The redesign of Powell Hall created a beautiful new collaborative and creative space for teaching, practice, and performance for our students, faculty, and guest 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 as well as address the many requirements for a contemporary music facility to work efficiently.

“We are proud to be the new tenant of this great building and look forward to being the next chapter in the legacy of Powell Hall.  We hope that this building will serve as a point of pride for the university, for the region, and for all the citizens of the state of Georgia.”  

Contact Alan Sanderson at (229) 333-5880 or amsanderson@valdosta.edu to learn more.

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