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Virginia Tech Approves $292M Plan to Build Mitchell Hall for Engineering Research

Wed September 06, 2023 - Southeast Edition
Virginia Tech & Roanoke Times

A rendering of Mitchell Hall from the west, featuring a viewing area for the Frith Lab to the left of the entrance. (Virginia Tech Capital Construction rendering)
A rendering of Mitchell Hall from the west, featuring a viewing area for the Frith Lab to the left of the entrance. (Virginia Tech Capital Construction rendering)

Transformational education starts with a solid foundation.

For Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, that foundation will be nestled in the heart of the North Academic District on the Blacksburg campus.

The university recently announced the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors' Buildings and Grounds Committee reviewed and approved the design for Mitchell Hall, an engineering and research building that will provide students, faculty and staff with innovative lab space and ample opportunities for experiential learning.

This latest addition to the campus in southwest Virginia is a critical replacement for Randolph Hall, which was constructed in two phases in the 1950s but was recently vacated to prepare for its demolition.

The new Mitchell Hall will be an expanded, centralized hub for several engineering departments, including those for aerospace, ocean, mechanical and chemical engineering, among others, allowing for more interdisciplinary collaboration for faculty and students.

The facility also will serve as the new home for the Frith First-Year Maker Space, the university noted on its website. The project comes at a pivotal moment for the engineering college, which is growing as part of the Commonwealth of Virginia's Tech Talent Initiative, a statewide push to increase graduates in key computing fields.

The five-story structure will support the College of Engineering's enrollment growth and its 21st century experiential learning and research mission. Expanding and improving the engineering program's physical infrastructure is a key component of Virginia Tech's strategic priorities.

"Preparing our students for life after graduation begins with hands-on learning and access to advanced equipment," said Julie Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen dean of engineering. "The future Mitchell Hall will give students a place to grow as professional engineers while equipping them for careers in industry and beyond."

In 2020, the Commonwealth of Virginia gave the university $11 million for designing Mitchell Hall, Tish Long, a Board of Visitors member, told the Roanoke Times. Two years later, the university received full funding with an overall budget of $292 million.

Virginia Tech named Mitchell Hall after 1958 alumnus Norris Mitchell and his wife Wendy when, in 2021, the couple made a record $35 million donation. It became the highest single gift ever made by a Hokies' graduate.

New Building Will Be Among Virginia Tech's Largest

When Mitchell Hall is complete, its approximately 285,500 sq. ft. will make it one of the largest buildings on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus, and more than 100,000 sq. ft. larger than Randolph Hall.

Designed to be a highly flexible and adaptable facility to accommodate current and future teaching pedagogies, Mitchell Hall will feature a variety of spaces that encourage productive collisions and evolving changes in technology.

Its first floor will support machine shops, research labs, a manufacturing high bay and the existing Stability Wind Tunnel. Built in the 1940s by NASA, the wind tunnel is one of the largest owned by a university in the United States.

The building's second floor will house the College of Engineering first-year experience with rooms for academic advising, a 200-person arena-style lecture hall and classroom spaces. The second floor also is slated to feature views of unique spaces on the first floor to inspire incoming and first-year students, the university noted.

Additional classrooms, flexible research lab spaces, and faculty and graduate student offices and workspaces will be dispersed throughout the building's third, fourth and fifth floors. Additionally, a plaza for outdoor events and exhibits will be located outside the glass, precast concrete and Hokie Stone-clad building.

Another Goal Is Improving School's Physical Accessibility

Mitchell Hall's development will provide opportunities to improve the North Academic District's physical accessibility.

For example, as Randolph Hall is decommissioned to make way for the new Mitchell Hall, the adjoining Hancock Hall will be converted into a standalone building.

Additionally, a new, universally designed pathway contributing to the campus master plan's green links system is planned to sit between Hancock and Mitchell halls. It will join an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant pedestrian pathway — which leads from the Perry Street Garage and Multi-Modal Transit Facility to the Drillfield — that will be under development as part of the series of high-priority mobility and accessibility improvements on the campus.

Sustainability also is at the forefront of Mitchell Hall's creation. Not only will the building's spaces be ADA-compliant and have clear, intuitive wayfinding, but it will be constructed to obtain or exceed LEED Silver Certification, with energy-efficient and water-saving fixtures utilized.

"Mitchell Hall is a welcomed and critical addition to the North Academic District," commented Chris Kiwus, vice president for campus planning, infrastructure and facilities at Virginia Tech. "The new facility — whose construction will be carefully coordinated due to the complexity of its location in the heart of campus — will not only provide much-needed modernized teaching and research space for the College of Engineering, but also necessary improvements to the overall physical accessibility of the Blacksburg campus."

Construction on Mitchell Hall is expected to begin next spring following the demolition of Randolph Hall. The project has been targeted for completion in late 2027. Skanska Inc. will be the construction manager at risk, and Perkins & Will is to serve as the project's architect and engineer.

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