University leaders and supporters of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at the groundbreaking of the school’s future home, Hitt Hall. (Christina Franusich photo)
Despite gray skies, an extraordinarily bright moment took place for Virginia Tech on Feb. 2 as leaders and donors broke ground on Hitt Hall, a 100,000-sq.-ft. building that will house the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, add critical dining capacity and supply general assignment academic classroom and collaboration space.
"This building is a tribute to what is possible when academia and industry collaborate to address the workforce needs of the 21st century, supported by generous friends and alumni," noted Virginia Tech President Tim Sands at the ceremony. "Hitt Hall will be an appropriate home for a nationally ranked and respected school that is developing the leaders and innovators who will define the industry's future."
Virginia Tech's board of visitors approved the design and funding for the Hitt Hall project last August. Located in the North Academic District and close to a new transit hub, the facility with serve thousands of students each day, whether for classes or meals.
The university is targeting spring 2024 for the construction's completion.
New School to Utilize Emerging Technologies
According to an article on Virginia Tech's website, the project begins during a time of far-reaching change in the construction industry, which like many sectors is being transformed by fast-emerging technologies.
"It's no stretch to say that we're at a transition point, something many of us call ‘Construction 4.0,'" said Brian Kleiner, who directs the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, and is the Ralph H. Bogle Professor within the College of Engineering. "Advances in automation, robotics and production systems technology are starting to transform the way we build, and that trend will only accelerate."
Virginia Tech degree programs focusing on construction began in the 1940s and have since evolved into a transdisciplinary enterprise that has drawn from both the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and the College of Engineering.
Crossing disciplinary boundaries to help faculty solve complex problems and empower students in the modern workplace is one of the current strategic priorities for the Blacksburg, Va.-based university.
"For the Myers-Lawson School, that's old news," noted Interim College of Architecture and Urban Studies Dean Rosemary Blieszner. "It's a way of working that has been in place for a very long time. Myers-Lawson is a shining example of what higher education can be when we connect students, faculty, and industry partners in the shared effort to build talent."
VT Has Long Been a Pipeline for Construction Talent
The building is named in recognition of a lead gift by the Hitt family, which founded one of the nation's largest construction firms, HITT Contracting, headquartered in Falls Church, Va.
Prior to the groundbreaking, Brett Hitt, co-chairman of HITT's board of directors, reflected on the passion for education and innovation in construction felt by his father, Russell Hitt, who passed away in 2020.
"This is an exciting and inspiring moment," he explained. "We appreciate Virginia Tech's leading role preparing today's students to become tomorrow's decision-makers in our industry."
Hitt also noted that many Virginia Tech graduates have brought their skills to Hitt Contracting, including company CEO Kim Roy (Class of 1999), who earned her bachelor's degree in building construction in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.
Leaders of several other major construction firms with strong ties to Virginia Tech were at the Feb. 2 event, including alumni John R. Lawson II (Class of ‘75) of the W.M. Jordan Co., with offices in Richmond and Newport News; A. Ross Myers (Class of '72) of Allan Myers Inc., in Worcester Township, Pa.; and Preston White (Class of ‘63) of Virginia Beach's Century Concrete.
"I appreciate how well Virginia Tech prepared me to succeed in industry, and it does an even better job today," said White, who founded Century Concrete three years after graduation, and is a member of the university's board of visitors. "Preparing the talent base that companies like mine are in need of is the life blood of the future, and this new building and expansion of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction will ensure a bright future for both the construction industry and Virginia Tech."
White announced at the event that he, Brett Hitt, Lawson and Myers recently committed to endow the Myers-Lawson School of Construction director's position and name it in honor of Kleiner and former program leader Mike Vorster.
Bethany Fernandez, a junior in construction engineering and management at Virginia Tech, was also among the event's speakers. She said she interned with Century Concrete through a magnet program at her high school — an experience that inspired her to pursue construction education in college.
"I'm so excited to see this new building get under way on campus," Fernandez said. "It makes me proud, and it is great to know there will be room for our program to continue to grow. In my opinion, one of the best things about our school is that it brings together elements of several other majors in ways that reflect how people collaborate in the industry. It's important to get different perspectives of what you will come across at work."
Julie Ross, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, concluded the event by affirming the university's commitment to providing an innovative environment for research and education.
"We take pride in preparing tomorrow's leaders for numerous industries, with construction front and center among them," Ross said, later adding, "With this new facility, we look forward to even more hands-on, experiential learning opportunities for our students as well as cross-disciplinary collaboration here on campus and with our industry partners."
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