Future Mitchell Hall brings promise for engineering research and experiential learning
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.
At its Aug. 29 meeting, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee reviewed the design for Mitchell Hall, a state-of-the-art engineering and research building that will provide engineering students, faculty, and staff with innovative lab space and ample opportunities for experiential learning.
This latest addition to the Blacksburg campus’s facilities is a critical replacement for Randolph Hall, which was constructed in two phases in the 1950s. Mitchell Hall will be an expanded, centralized hub for several engineering departments, including aerospace and ocean engineering, mechanical engineering, and chemical engineering, among others, allowing for more interdisciplinary collaboration for faculty and students.
The building will also serve as the new home for the Frith First-Year Maker Space. 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 facility will support the College of Engineering’s enrollment growth and its 21st century experiential learning and research mission. Expanding and improving the College of Engineering’s physical infrastructure is a key component of the college’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.”
Open to the future
This innovative space was made possible with a $35 million gift from Norris Mitchell ’58 and his wife, Wendy, which is the largest-ever gift by an alumnus. Coming from humble beginnings in Carroll County, Virginia, the aerospace engineering alumnus has said he wanted to give back to “prepare tomorrow’s engineers.”
When Mitchell Hall is complete, its approximately 285,500 gross square feet will make it one of the largest buildings on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus.
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.
The 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 country. The building’s second floor will support the College of Engineering first-year experience with spaces for academic advising, a 200-person arena-style lecture hall, and classroom spaces. The second floor also features views to unique spaces on the first floor to inspire incoming and first-year students. Additional classrooms, flexible research lab spaces, and faculty and graduate student offices and workspaces will be dispersed throughout the third, fourth, and fifth floors. A plaza for outdoor events and exhibits will be located outside the glass, precast concrete, and Hokie Stone-clad building.
Improving physical accessibility
Mitchell Hall’s development will provide opportunities to improve the North Academic District’s physical accessibility. As Randolph Hall is decommissioned to make way for the new Mitchell Hall, the adjoining Hancock Hall will be converted into a standalone building. A new universally designed pathway contributing to the campus master plan’s green links system will sit between Hancock and Mitchell halls. This pathway will join an additional 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 university’s Blacksburg campus.
“Mitchell Hall is a welcomed and critical addition to the North Academic District,” said Chris Kiwus, vice president for campus planning, infrastructure, and facilities. “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.”
Accessibility and sustainability are at the forefront of Mitchell Hall’s creation. The building’s spaces will be ADA-compliant and have clear, intuitive wayfinding. The facility will be constructed to obtain or exceed LEED Silver Certification, with energy-efficient and water-saving fixtures utilized.
Construction on Mitchell Hall is expected to begin in the spring 2024 with the initial demolition of Randolph Hall. The project has a target completion time of late 2027.